Donald Trump’s path to installing a new Supreme Court justice appeared to clear on Tuesday as key Republican senators said they backed holding a vote on his nominee.
The US president said he would announce his pick on Saturday at the White House. Amy Coney Barrett, a 48-year-old federal appeals court judge favoured by religious conservatives, is seen as the leading contender.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, with the vice-president, Mike Pence, able to cast the deciding vote in case of a tie. Only two Republican senators have voiced opposition to Mr Trump’s desire to install a replacement to Ruth Bader Ginsburg as quickly as possible.
On Tuesday, Mitt Romney, the Utah senator who broke with Republicans to vote for Mr Trump’s impeachment this year, indicated in a statement that he supported considering and voting on the president’s nominee even though the November election is just weeks away.
In 2016, Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, blocked a vote on Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, citing the fact it was an election year and that whoever won the White House should make the nomination.
“The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own,” Mr Romney said on Tuesday. “I intend to follow the constitution and precedent in considering the president’s nominee.”
Mr Romney’s statement followed comments on Monday from other Republican senators, who either face tough re-election battles or have previously voiced opposition to an election year Supreme Court nomination, saying they supported Mr Trump’s move to quickly install a successor to Ginsburg, who died on Friday aged 87.
Among them was Chuck Grassley, the former Senate judiciary committee chairman who this year said he would not hold confirmation hearings on a Supreme Court nominee close to the election if he were running the committee.
In his statement on Monday, the Iowa senator said it was no longer his decision to make. “Once the hearings are under way, it’s my responsibility to evaluate the nominee on the merits, just as I always have,” he said.
Lindsey Graham, the Senate judiciary’s current chairman, said on Monday evening in an interview on Fox News that he was confident there was enough Republican support to confirm Mr Trump’s nominee before the November 3 election.
“We got the votes to confirm Justice Ginsburg’s replacement before the election,” he added.
A successful confirmation of Mr Trump’s nominee would cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the US high court, with far-ranging implications for areas of the law including abortion and gun control.
Democrats have decried the move by Republicans to replace Ginsburg in an election year. Some have threatened to add additional justices in the future as retaliation, though Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, has in the past rejected the idea of “packing the court”.