WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump was poised Tuesday to announce his choice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, one of the most consequential moves of his young administration and a decision with ramifications that could long outlast his time in office.
The president is to unveil his pick during an 8 p.m. EST televised address from the White House.
Trump is said 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.
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.
A White House official said both Gorsuch and Hardiman were to be in Washington ahead of Tuesday night's event, adding a dash of drama to the announcement from the reality television star turned president. The official was not authorized to discuss the Supreme Court pick and insisted on remaining anonymous.
Pryor's standing has appeared to slip, in part because his reputation as a staunch conservative seems likely to make him a rich target for Democratic senators in a confirmation hearing.
The judges appeared on Trump's list of 21 possible choices that he made public during the campaign, and each has met with him to discuss the vacancy that arose when Antonin Scalia died nearly a year ago.
Trump's pick will restore a general conservative tilt to the court but is not expected to call into question high-profile rulings on abortion, gay marriage and other issues in which the court has been divided 5-4 in recent years.
Despite Gorsuch and Hardiman emerges as the most likely picks Tuesday, Trump is well-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."
A conservative group already has announced plans to begin airing $2 million worth of ads in support of the nominee in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and North Dakota, four states that Trump won and in which Democrats will be defending their Senate seats in 2018.
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