Is the open U.S. Supreme Court seat a religion story? Do we even need to ask that?

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If you live in Washington, D.C., or have sojourned there in the past, then you know that a high percentage of folks in the Beltway chattering classes wake up every morning with a dose of Mike Allen.

This was true in his "Playbook" days at The Politico and it's true now that he has moved on to create the Axios website, which is must-reading in this troubled Donald Trump era.

So if you want to know what DC folks are thinking about -- after King Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court -- then it's logical to do a quick scan of Allen's punchy offerings today in the "Axios AM" digital newsletter (click here to see it in a browser). At this here weblog, that means looking for religion-beat hooks. It doesn't take a lot of effort to find them. For example:

Behind the scenes: Trump doesn’t personally care that much about some of the social issues, such as LGBT rights, energizing the Republican base over the Supreme Court.
But Trump knows how much his base cares about the court. He believes that releasing his list of potential court picks during the campaign was a masterstroke, and helped him win.

What part of the GOP base is Allen talking about? That's obvious. However, journalists covering this angle really need to see if many cultural conservatives are all that interested in rolling back gay-rights victories at the high court.

Most of the people I know understand that this ship has sailed, in post-Christian American culture, and they are primarily interested in seeing a strong court decision defending some kind of conscientious objection status and/or a clear rejection of government compelled speech and artistic expression. In other words, they would like to see an old-school liberal ruling on First Amendment grounds.

As I have said here many times, I know very, very few religious conservatives who wanted to vote for Trump. However, I heard lots of people say something like this: I don't know what Donald Trump is going to do. But I do know what Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to do. I'm going to have to take a risk. They were talking about SCOTUS and the First Amendment.

Back to Allen:

History suggests that as Trump ruminates Kennedy’s replacement, he will spend a lot of time talking to the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo (who wrote Trump’s original list of judges.)
But Trump will also likely pick the brains of a much wider range of allies, including folks like conservative movement leader Ralph Reed, said a source who saw Trump first-hand during the Neil Gorsuch nomination process.

Religion angle? See this morning's GetReligion memo from religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling. Read it all.

Oh, but that reference to Reed, of the old Religious Right? Maybe. But I bet the insiders are talking to other thinkers in sacred halls. Another hint from Allen:

The replacement of Anthony Kennedy's swing vote with a more reliable conservative would have immediate implications, Axios' Caitlin Owens and Sam Baker write:
* 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 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.

#DUH. However, religious liberty needs to be in that list as its own item, as I have been arguing for 30 years or more.

What about this Axios angle? Check out the site's chart showing how Kennedy moved to the left as he grew older. Click here to see that.

Religion angle? on what issues did Kennedy shift to the moral and cultural left? Can you say "meaning of the universe"?

Finally, Allen joined many others in providing a short list of potential Kennedy replacements. Does this name ring a bell?

3. Amy Coney Barrett, 46, of Indiana, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Can you say "dogma"? Then say no more.

In conclusion, let me note this LOL headline in the holy writ of The New York Timesa newspaper that has been known to influence Supreme Court decisions.

Kennedy Retirement Injects an Inflammatory New Issue Into Midterms

Say what? The status of the U.S. Supreme Court is a "new issue" in any set of national elections? That's tragically hilarious. The high court has dominated American political life for decades.

Any religion themes? Parse these two quotes from this Times report:

“This will be the biggest, most bitter political battle we have ever seen in terms of intensity,” said Paul Begala, the longtime Democratic strategist.
Veteran party leaders predicted they would be inundated with a new wave of volunteers and donors, eager to halt Mr. Trump and the conservative takeover of all three branches of the federal government.
“This is going to be incredibly motivating for women,” said Cecile Richards, the former head of Planned Parenthood, noting that her phone and social media accounts had been “blowing up” since the afternoon announcement.

I would have liked more material there. For example, other than Planned Parenthood, what were the other logical groups to contact on the religious left?

Now read this, which echoes some of the Allen material:

The ability to reshape the Supreme Court was one of the decisive factors in Mr. Trump’s election. Conservatives, who were initially wary of a thrice-married former Democrat who once supported abortion rights, came to accept Mr. Trump in part because he took the unusual step of providing a list of people he said would be on his Supreme Court shortlist.
And while the Gorsuch nomination allowed him to make good on that promise, replacing Justice Kennedy will allow him to further solidify his bond with conservatives — which could prove important in keeping his base unified heading into the November elections.
“The biggest thing this does is set us up for a replay of 2016 from the standpoint of voter engagement,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in an interview. “In some of the Senate races where people aren’t so excited about the candidates, they will overlook them because they are overshadowed by Trump and the Supreme Court.”
On Wednesday morning, hours before Justice Kennedy announced his retirement, top leaders of the social conservative movement were already texting one another reminders to have their news releases ready in anticipation of their greatest opportunity to tilt the court rightward and potentially even overturn Roe v. Wade.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for 40 years, more, since 1973,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group with an active ground game in battleground states, citing the year the court legalized abortion.

Now, a word to newsroom managers: Do you have a solid, experienced religion-beat journalist on your team? Now's the time to get one.

MAIN IMAGE: A screen grab from today's "Axios AM" newsletter.

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