WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is set to announce his pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, in one of the most consequential moves of his young administration.
The president has said he will announce his nominee during an 8 p.m. EST televised address from the White House, in a decision with ramifications that could long outlast his time in office.
Trump is reported to have made his selection from a group of three finalists, all federal appeals court judges appointed by former President George W. Bush: Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman and William Pryor.
Pryor, 54, is an Alabama-based judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Gorsuch, 49, is on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Hardiman, 51, sits on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburgh. President George W. Bush nominated all three for their current posts.
Each appeared on Trump’s list of 21 possible choices that he made public during the campaign, and each has met with Trump to discuss the vacancy that arose when Scalia died nearly a year ago.
Gorsuch, 49, who serves on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, and Hardiman, 51, who serves alongside Trump’s sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are believed to have an edge, according to people with knowledge of the decision. Pryor’s standing has appeared to slip recently, in part because his reputation as a staunch conservative seems likely to make him a rich target for Democratic senators in a confirmation hearing.
However, Trump is known for changing his mind. Just hours before the president’s announcement, his final decision was being closely held — a level of secrecy out of character for Trump advisers and associates who sometimes discuss even private deliberations in the press.
The ninth seat on the Supreme Court has sat empty since Scalia died in February 2016. President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacancy, but Senate Republicans refused to consider the pick, saying the seat should be filled only after the November election.
That GOP effort outraged the White House and congressional Democrats, who have suggested they might seek to block any choice Trump makes. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said Democrats will oppose any nominee outside the mainstream.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that while Democrats may not like the “political or philosophical background” of the president’s pick, “the criteria in terms of academia background, time on the bench, the expertise and criteria meets the intent of both Republicans and Democrats.”
If Democrats decide to filibuster, the fate of Trump’s nominee could rest in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Trump has encouraged McConnell to change the rules of the Senate and make it impossible to filibuster a Supreme Court nominee — a change known in the Senate as the “nuclear option.”