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Photo illustration: Axios visuals

Anthony Kennedy's retirement has given Republicans a once-in-a-generation shot at reshaping the Supreme Court.

The big picture: Republicans already preserved a conservative seat by denying Merrick Garland a vote in 2016. Now they will likely be able to replace Kennedy's swing vote with a more reliable conservative, with immediate implications.

  • Abortion: Kennedy voted with the court’s liberals to strike down some of the most aggressive efforts to limit women’s access to abortion. A more conservative court likely would be far more open to curtailing Roe v. Wade.
  • LGBT rights: It’s hard to imagine the court ever overturning Kennedy’s historic 2015 decision on same-sex marriage. But it’s very easy to imagine a broader range of carve-outs and exemptions for people like the Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
  • Criminal justice: Kennedy was skeptical of the death penalty in certain cases, and had recently suggested that solitary confinement is unconstitutional.

Between the lines: Sources close to the White House told Axios' Jonathan Swan that during the previous Supreme Court search Trump bonded with Thomas Hardiman, 52, and others in the White House were high on Raymond Kethledge, 51. And when Trump added Brett Kavanaugh, 53, to his list of possible choices last year, court watchers thought that was significant.

State of play:

  • The court's term starts in October, so Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has more incentive to get someone in place by then.
  • Trump will "immediately begin" the selection process, he said today.
  • Democrats can't block it by themselves: Republicans hold 51 seats, and only need 50 votes.
  • Republicans to watch: Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two generally pro-choice Republican senators.
  • Democrats to watch: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia all voted for Neil Gorsuch and are defending seats in states Trump won in 2016.
  • The Merrick Garland precedent: Chuck Schumer wants to wait until after the election, citing 2016. Republicans say no thanks, arguing the precedent only applies to presidential election years.

The bottom line: Trump has privately predicted he'll get four justices appointed in his first term. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85, Stephen Breyer is 79, Clarence Thomas is 70 and Samuel Alito is 68.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
9 hours ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania.