Trump to announce Supreme Court nominee next week

Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump said Tuesday he will announce next week his nominee to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court -- a crucial decision that could shape US law on major issues like abortion for decades.

One of the court's nine seats has been vacant since conservative justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016.

In the interim, Senate Republicans refused to give President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, even a confirmation hearing, much less put the nomination to a vote.

So the court has been divided evenly between progressives and conservatives. That equality however runs the risk of the court deadlocking.

"We'll pick a truly great Supreme Court justice and I'll be announcing it sometime next week," Trump said in the Oval Office.

Trump said recently he had a list of 20 candidates for the empty seat.

He invited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer and the two leading members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to the White House later Tuesday to discuss filling the vacancy on the US high court.

The Supreme Court has the final say on interpreting federal constitutional law. It takes on cases addressing important issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and gun rights.

Nominees put forward by the president must be confirmed by the Senate for these lifetime positions.

Supreme Court nominees require a 60-vote majority for confirmation in the 100-seat Senate. Republicans hold 52 seats, so any nominee would need support from at least eight Democrats.

- Mocking Trump on Twitter -

After winning the US election on November 8, Trump said he would name justices who are against abortion, and staunch defenders of Americans' right to own guns as enshrined in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

"I'm pro-life," he told CBS. "The judges will be pro-life."

Trump said his nominees would be "very pro-Second Amendment."

Trump may have other opportunities to nominate justices. Two of the current justices are in their 80s -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy. Stephen Breyer will turn 80 next year.

Last May, Trump published a list of possible candidates for the vacant seat. They are all white conservatives. Three are women.

They include Don Willett, a Republican who sits on the Supreme Court of Texas and whose Twitter profile notes he is a former rodeo bull rider. He is known to have a sense of humor.

Willett has jokingly mocked Trump repeatedly on Twitter. In one tweet on Trump's plans to spend big on infrastructure, Willett posted a picture from "Star Wars" and wrote: "We'll rebuild the Death Star. It'll be amazing, believe me. And the rebels will pay for it. -- Darth Trump."

Another candidate is William Pryor, a federal judge who is Catholic and has criticized the Supreme Court decision in 1973 legalizing abortion as the "worst abomination in the history of constitutional law."

Yet another is Diane Sykes, who has raised eyebrows with a ruling that threw out a ban on minors at firing ranges within the city limits of crime-wracked Chicago.

This list, comprising federal and state supreme court judges, largely reflects one proposed in March by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank to which Trump essentially delegated the task of coming up with candidates to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.