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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

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations before leaving office

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump plans to issue at least 100 pardons and commutations on his final full day in office Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Axios.

Why it matters: This is a continuation of the president's controversial December spree that saw full pardons granted to more than two dozen people — including former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, longtime associate Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father of Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

  • The pardons set to be issued before Trump exits the White House will be a mix of criminal justice ones and pardons for people connected to the president, the sources said.
  • CNN first reported this news.

Go deeper: Convicts turn to D.C. fixers for Trump pardons

Schumer's m(aj)ority checklist

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Capitalizing on the Georgia runoffs, achieving a 50-50 Senate and launching an impeachment trial are weighty to-dos for getting Joe Biden's administration up and running on Day One.

What to watch: A blend of ceremonies, hearings and legal timelines will come into play on Tuesday and Wednesday so Chuck Schumer can actually claim the Senate majority and propel the new president's agenda.

The dark new reality in Congress

National Guard troops keep watch at security fencing. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

This is how bad things are for elected officials and others working in a post-insurrection Congress:

  • Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.) said she had a panic attack while grocery shopping back home.
  • Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said police may also have to be at his constituent meetings.
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told a podcaster he brought a gun to his office on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 because he anticipated trouble with the proceedings that day.