President Donald Trump has announced he will next week nominate a woman to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, escalating a political row over her successor.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18 at the age of 87, just weeks before the presidential election.
Joe Biden insists the decision on her replacement should wait until after the vote.
The ideological balance of the nine-member court is crucial to its rulings on the most important issues in US law.
However, President Trump has vowed to swear in Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s successor “without delay”, a move that has infuriated Democrats, who fear Republicans will vote to lock in a decades-long conservative majority on the country’s highest court.
“I will be putting forth a nominee next week. It will be a woman,” President Trump said at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina on September 19.
“I think it should be a woman because I actually like women much more than men.”
Some supporters chanted “Fill that seat!” as President Trump spoke, urging him to take the rare opportunity to nominate a third justice during one presidential term to a lifetime appointment on the court.
Earlier, President Trump praised two female judges who serve on federal courts of appeals as possible choices. Both judges – Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa – are conservatives who would tip the balance of the Supreme Court in favor of Republicans.
Democrats have vigorously opposed any nomination before November’s election, arguing that Senate Republicans blocked Democratic President Barack Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court in 2016.
At the time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell justified the move on grounds that it was an election year.
On September 18, Senator McConnell said he intended to act on any nomination President Trump made and bring it to a vote in the Senate before Election Day.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, affectionately known as “The Notorious RBG”, a liberal icon and feminist standard-bearer, died of metastatic pancreatic cancer at her home in Washington DC, surrounded by her family. She was only the second-ever woman to sit on the Supreme Court.
The appointment of judges in is a political question which means the president gets to choose who is put forward. The Senate then votes to confirm – or reject – the choice.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who served for 27 years, was one of only four liberals on the nine-seat bench. Her death means that, should the Republicans get the vote through, the balance of power would shift decisively towards the conservatives.
President Trump, who has already chosen two Supreme Court justices during his presidency, is well aware that getting his nominee in would give conservatives control over key decisions for decades to come. Justices can serve for life, unless they decide to retire.
He tweeted on September 19: “We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices. We have this obligation, without delay!”
Earlier, Senator McConnell said in a statement – which included a tribute to Ginsburg – that “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate”.
The senator had argued in 2016 that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice” which meant “this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president”.
Now he says the Senate was within its rights to act because it was Republican-controlled, and Donald Trump is a Republican president.