Jun 26, 2018

The big picture: Conservatives win big at Supreme Court

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Conservatives are on a winning streak at the Supreme Court, and Justice Anthony Kennedy will decide how long it lasts.

The big picture: In just the past two weeks, the court has sided with anti-abortion advocates, a Christian baker who objects to same-sex marriage, and the Trump administration’s travel ban. But it has also left itself some flexibility to change its mind in the future.

This is why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held the court's vacant seat open for more than a year, so that Trump could fill it instead of President Obama. It worked.

Between the lines: In the most important cases of its current term, which ends tomorrow, the court has either sided with conservatives directly or handed them temporary wins by punting.

  • The court upheld Trump’s travel ban, 5-4, in a ruling that focuses on the text of the policy itself, rather than Trump’s tweets and public comments.
  • Also by a 5-4 margin, the justices sided with anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, saying California went too far in trying to regulate them.
  • It sided with the Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. Earlier proceedings had been too dismissive of his faith, the court said.
  • It kicked the can on potentially landmark cases about partisan gerrymandering, allowing GOP-drawn congressional districts to stand.

What’s next: The court likely will deal a major blow to public-sector unions tomorrow.

Yes, but: Some of these conservative victories may not be permanent.

  • The baker’s case was narrowly decided, and Kennedy explicitly said similar cases could go the other way in the future.
  • Kennedy also fired something of a warning shot on the travel ban, writing that, although this policy is legal, “an anxious world must know that our government remains committed always to the liberties the Constitution seeks to preserve.”
  • Because it didn’t make a decision on partisan gerrymandering, a new crop of cases can eventually return to the high court.

It’s all about Kennedy. Because Kennedy is the court’s swing vote, it’s hard to build a five-justice majority without him. And that means the court’s biggest decisions largely reflect his ideology — mostly conservative, but with a penchant for leaving some wiggle room, and highly attuned to concerns about personal dignity.

  • But if Kennedy chooses to retire, he’ll likely be replaced by a more staunchly conservative justice who would be far less inclined to exercise the flexibility Kennedy has gone out of his way to preserve.

(Editor's note: Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily morning newsletter, Axios AM.)

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

There are no COVID-19 patients in hospital in New Zealand, which reported just 21 active cases after days of zero new infections. A top NZ health official said Tuesday he's "confident we have broken the chain of domestic transmission."

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.9 million tests).

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

Coronavirus antibody tests are still relatively unreliable, and it's unclear if people who get the virus are immune to getting it again, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned on Tuesday.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 5,588,299 — Total deaths: 350,417 — Total recoveries — 2,286,827Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9:30 p.m. ET: 1,680,625 — Total deaths: 98,902 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Federal response: DOJ investigates meatpacking industry over soaring beef pricesMike Pence's press secretary returns to work.
  4. Congress: House Republicans to sue Nancy Pelosi in effort to block proxy voting.
  5. Business: How the new workplace could leave parents behind.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets about mail-in voting for first timeGoogle to open offices July 6 for 10% of workers.
  7. Public health: Coronavirus antibodies could give "short-term immunity," CDC says, but more data is neededCDC releases guidance on when you can be around others after contracting the virus.
  8. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy