WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump was set to unveil his pick for a lifetime job on the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as Democrats, still fuming over the Republican-led Senate’s refusal to act on former President Barack Obama’s nominee last year, girded for a fight.
Trump has announced he would reveal his choice to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February, at the White House at 8 p.m. (0100 GMT on Wednesday).
The court is ideologically split with four conservative justices and four liberals, and Trump’s pick can restore its conservative majority.
A source involved in the selection process said Trump has made his choice between two conservative U.S. appeals court judges appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush.
The two contenders are Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Thomas Hardiman, who serves on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the source said.
William Pryor, a judge on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had earlier been mentioned as a possible nominee.
Under the Constitution, a president’s Supreme Court nomination requires Senate confirmation.
Amid partisan tension since Trump took office, Democrats remain enraged because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused last year to allow the Senate to consider Obama’s nomination of appeals court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant seat. That action has little precedent in U.S. history.
McConnell on Monday warned Democrats that senators should respect Trump’s election victory and give the nominee “careful consideration followed by an up-or-down vote,” not a filibuster.
Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, said last week he would favour Senate Republicans eliminating the filibuster, a change dubbed the “nuclear option,” for Supreme Court nominees if Democrats block his pick.
Gorsuch, Hardiman and Pryor have strong conservative credentials.
Gorsuch, 49, joined an opinion in 2013 saying that owners of private companies can object on religious grounds to a provision of the Obamacare health insurance law requiring employers to provide coverage for birth control for women.
Hardiman, 51, has embraced a broad interpretation of the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms and has backed the right of schools to restrict student speech.
Pryor, 54, has been an outspoken critic of the court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion, calling it “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.”
Conservatives are hoping the high court will back restrictions imposed on abortion by some Republican-governed states.
Since it had only eight members after Scalia’s death, the court has steered clear of some controversial issues. The most high-profile case currently under consideration is that of a female-born transgender high school student named Gavin Grimm, who identifies as male. He sued in 2015 to win the right to use the school’s boys’ bathroom in Virginia.
Depending on how quickly Trump’s nominee is confirmed by the Senate, he may be able to participate in some of the current term’s cases. If not, the court may have to consider setting new oral arguments and deciding them at a later date. (Reuters).