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Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy shakes hands with then Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. Photo: Eric Thayer/Getty Images

President Donald Trump was quick to praise Justice Anthony Kennedy for his service while simultaneously bashing other members of the Supreme Court, the N.Y. Times' Adam Liptak and Maggie Haberman write in "Inside the White House’s Quiet Campaign to Create a Supreme Court Opening."

The big picture: Despite Trump's niceties, people in the White House said “time was of the essence,” to replace Kennedy, Liptak and Haberman write. The president recognized that he needed to fill his vacancy before November, because if the Democrats gain control of the Senate in November, Trump's choice for Kennedy’s successor may not get through.

The other side: Despite the public praise, "Justice Kennedy is reviled by many of Mr. Trump’s supporters" for his votes upholding access to abortion, expanding gay rights, and limiting the death penalty in the United States — all issues that are subject to change with a more conservative Justice on the high court.

Behind the scenes
  • The White House quietly teed up a way to ensure Trump had a second nomination in his presidency, reports the Times, so "[Trump] would change the complexion and direction of the Supreme Court."
  • When Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Trump picked Justice Neil Gorsuch, who had served as a law clerk to Justice Kennedy.
  • After Justice Gorsuch’s nomination was announced, a White House official singled out two candidates for the next Supreme Court vacancy: "Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Judge Raymond M. Kethledge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati."
  • Both Kavanaugh and Kethledge had previously clerked for Kennedy.
  • "Justice Kennedy’s son, Justin ... spent more than a decade at Deutsche Bank, [where] he worked closely with Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer ... During Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s most important lender."
“Justice Kennedy has been praised by all for his dedicated and dignified service.”
— Trump, during Justice Gorsuch’s judicial oath in 2017

Reality check: "There were no direct efforts to pressure or lobby Justice Kennedy," write Liptak and Haberman.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

U.S. sounds alarm on Ukraine

Conscripts line up at a Russian railway station yesterday before departing for Army service. Photo: Sergei Malgavko/TASS via Getty Images

The Biden administration is "deeply concerned" by new intelligence — detailed for Axios and other outlets — showing Russia stepping up preparations to invade Ukraine as soon as early 2022.

Why it matters: Most of this was known from public sources and satellite imagery, but the administration is sending a stronger signal by releasing specific details from the intelligence community.

CNN fires Chris Cuomo

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for CNN

CNN said Saturday evening it has fired one of its star anchors, Chris Cuomo, following new revelations from a legal review made by the company into Cuomo's involvement in the management of his brother's sexual harassment scandal.

Why it matters: Saturday's firing speaks to how much pressure CNN was under by employees and critics to address Cuomo's behavior.

Updated 4 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Electric car prices could go up before they come down

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The secret to affordable electric vehicles is cheaper batteries. But after years of falling prices, battery costs are now headed in the wrong direction.

Why it matters: Costlier batteries could drive up the price of electric vehicles — threatening the auto industry's transition away from fossil fuels, and, in turn, society's fight against climate change.