WASHINGTON (CN) – Approaching a year since the U.S. Supreme Court lost its tie-breaking vote, President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will soon nominate a successor for Justice Antonin Scalia.
“We will pick a truly great Supreme Court justice,” Trump said after signing a series of executive orders Tuesday. “I’ll be announcing it sometime next week.”
The ninth seat on the nation’s high court has been vacant since Scalia’s death on Feb. 13, 2016. Though President Barack Obama quickly nominated Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit for the job, Senate Republicans refused to grant the judge a confirmation hearing.
Still stinging from that unprecedented blockade, Democrats have said they would consider returning the favor for Trump’s pick.
“If the nominee is not bipartisan and mainstream, we absolutely will keep the seat open,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Schumer expounded on this at a press conference shortly before he left for the White House. Though he said there is no “litmus test” that qualifies a judge as mainstream, Schumer noted that a mainstream nominee generally is one who will “follow existing law” and who will not “use the court to change things around to your personal ideological likes and predilections.”
Schumer denied that Democrats want revenge against Republicans for denying them Garland.
“Clearly what they did with Garland was wrong, but we’re not playing tit-for-tat here,” Schumer told reporters. “We want a mainstream nominee because that’s the right thing for America.”
Trump is scheduled to confer on his nomination later today with several members of the Senate, including Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, respectively the top Republican and Democrat on the Judiciary Committee were also invited to the meeting, McConnell said Tuesday in a floor speech.
“I appreciate the president soliciting our advice on this important matter,” McConnell added.
In letting Garland’s nomination expire last year, Republicans had said the ongoing presidential election unfairly politicized the process.
Addressing reporters before Schumer’s press conference Tuesday, McConnell tried to distinguish what the Republicans did with Garland and what Democrats would be doing if they tried to block Trump’s pick for the court.
“There’s a big difference between not approving a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of the highly contested presidential election and the beginning of a four-year term,” McConnell said.
Trump had not yet even secured the Republican nomination in May 2016 when he unveiled a list of judges he would consider for the open spot. The list, which Trump made longer in November, was predictably conservative and in some instances identical to suggestions put forward shortly after Scalia’s death by the Heritage Foundation’s John Malcolm.
Even after releasing the list, Trump played coy on who he would actually pick, simply promising to appoint a conservative champion who would follow in Scalia’s footsteps. Over the weekend, however, Trump indicated that he would indeed choose someone from the lists he released during the campaign, giving a shortlist of possible future justices.
Politico reported Tuesday that Trump has trimmed the list down to Thomas Haridman of the Third Circuit, Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit and William Pryor of the 11th Circuit. Haridman and Gorsuch are said to have the upper hand in the three-way race.
Pryor, the oldest of the three at 54, was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush. The Atlanta-based judge once called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law,” a comment sure to satisfy conservatives court watchers.
Gorsuch, 49, is also a Bush appointee. The Denver-based judge recently came down in favor of privately held companies who said the contraceptive mandate in the federal health care law violated their religious beliefs.
Hardiman, of Philadelphia, would be the only Supreme Court justice not educated at any Ivy League law school, having put himself through Georgetown with money he made driving a taxi.
A 51-year-old Bush appointee, Hardiman relied heavily on Scalia’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller when dissenting from a ruling on a New Jersey law that requires people to show a “justifiable need” to receive a public-carry permit. Hardiman has generally taken fairly reliable conservative positions while on the bench.
The reported short list eschews two women Trump was said to have been considering: Diane Sykes, of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, and Joan Larsen, of the Michigan Supreme Court.
Sykes, yet another Bush appointee at age 59, recently supported the common conservative position that closely held corporations should be exempt from the contraceptive mandate in the federal health care law.
Larsen, who turned 48 last month, has served on the Michigan high court for just over a year. Against this lack of experience is the judge’s background of having once clerked for Scalia.
Trump also had a fellow Twitter star on his early lists: Don Willett, 50, of the Texas Supreme Court. Willett’s profile picture on Twitter is a man with judge’s robes and a cowboy hat riding the Twitter symbol rodeo-style, with one hand in the air clutching a gavel.