WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR MEDIA) — The Supreme Court seat once occupied by Justice Antonin Scalia has sat vacant for nearly a year but that will soon change if President Donald Trump’s forthcoming nomination is successful.
On Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET, Trump will name his choice to join the high court’s nine-seat bench.
In his now-standard superlatives, the president, surrounded by media and his ever-present glass of Diet Coke, dubbed his upcoming roll out “a very big decision on the United States Supreme Court.”
The final pick is “a person who is unbelievably highly respected,” said Trump, adding, “I think you will be very impressed with this person.”
The president’s planned announcement serves a dual purpose: putting him front and center in his preferred prime-time television slot and shifting focus away from widespread backlash on his temporary ban on travelers and refugees from seven majority-Muslim nations.
Three leading contenders
Trump began the SCOTUS selection process several months ago with a list of two dozen names curated by the conservative Heritage Foundation, but he has reportedly pegged three final contenders to fill the seat.
All of them are white, male federal judges.
Neil Gorsuch – 10th Circuit
Denver-based Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th Court of Appeals who graduated from Harvard Law School, is rumored to be one of two primary front-runners.
Gorsuch, at 49 years old, is considered to be the most mainstream of the finalists, while still maintaining right-of-center positions.
Bloomberg writes that Gorsuch “has championed religious liberty and criticized the Supreme Court ruling that requires judges to defer to administrative agencies on the scope of federal statutes.”
Thomas Hardiman – 3rd Circuit
The other leading contender is 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Hardiman of Pittsburgh.
Hardiman graduated from Georgetown Law Center, and “the 51-year-old has a conservative record, in his case with particular emphasis on the rights of gun owners,” writes NPR’s court insider Nina Totenberg.
Bill Pryor, Jr. – 11th Circuit
A third and somewhat less likely candidate at this time is Judge Bill Pryor Jr. of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
Pryor, a 54-year-old Tulane Law School grad, has met with Trump in the past and would break the tradition of drafting SCOTUS appointees almost exclusively from the Ivy Leagues.
He also would be a slam dunk vote against abortion rights.
“Pryor once called the 1973 landmark abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, the ‘worst abomination in the history of constitutional law,’” reports CBS News.
Democratic filibuster looms
Senate Republicans stonewalled President Barack Obama’s choice for the court, DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland, for close to a year, and could soon get a taste of their own obstructive medicine.
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., revealed that “he will filibuster any pick that is not Merrick Garland and that the vast majority of his caucus will oppose Trump’s nomination,” reports Politico. “That means Trump’s nominee will need 60 votes to be confirmed by the Senate.”
Other left-leaning senators have indicated they would also support a Democratic blockade.
Filibusters are rare when it comes to SCOTUS nominees, because there’s a general agreement that, barring extreme cases, a president has the prerogative to choose someone of their ideological ilk.
Senate GOPers, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., broke that tradition in their complete refusal to even consider Garland’s nomination.
Now it’s payback time.
McConnell’s only option to overcome a Democratic filibuster and force a floor vote would be to use the “nuclear option,” which would allow Republicans to approve a Supreme Court nominee with just 51 votes. (There are 52 Republicans in the Senate now.)
When asked if he’ll employ the nuclear option, McConnell was coy, telling National Journal, “We’re going to get the nominee confirmed.”
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales