President donald trump has vowed to push ahead with a supreme court nomination without delay following the death of ruth bader ginsburg on friday night.
The us president tweeted on saturday that he considered it an obligation to put forward a nominee, who if confirmed would tilt the balance of the court decisively towards the conservatives.
Mr trump tweeted: we [republicans] 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!
His tweet came hours after ginsburg died, aged 87, of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. ginsburg was renowned for her long and successful legal career during which she championed equality for women.
Mr trump paid glowing tribute to ginsburg on friday night, saying in a statement that she demonstrated that one can disagree without being disagreeable toward ones colleagues or different points of view.
But by saturday morning the presidents mind had shifted to who might replace her in what would be the third nomination of his first term.
Mitch mcconnell, the republican senate majority leader, has already said he would hold a vote to confirm whoever president donald trump nominated, despite having blocked one of barack obamas nominees in similar circumstances in 2016.
Lindsey graham, the republican chair of the senate judiciary committee, which would lead the hearing process for any nominee, also signalled on saturday he was likely to back a vote. mr graham has previously argued against appointing a supreme court justice in an election year. but on saturday he drew attention to comments he made earlier this year saying it was different on this occasion because the senate is controlled by the same party as the president.
The comments by mr graham and mr mcconnell leave just a few republican senators, who have also previously argued against appointing new justices in an election year, as the only remaining potential hurdle to another trump appointment.
The republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the senate and need a simple majority to secure a supreme court appointment. mike pence, the vice-president, would vote to break the deadlock in the event of a tie.
In a statement just hours after ginsburgs death, mr mcconnell said: americans re-elected our [senate] majority in 2016 and expanded it in 2018 because we pledged to work with president trump and support his agenda, particularly his outstanding appointments to the federal judiciary. once again, we will keep our promise. president trumps nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the united states senate.
The president has previously vowed to fill any supreme court vacancy that arises in an election year, even though senate republicans blocked mr obama from doing so in 2016 because the election was nine months away.
Securing a third seat of his presidency following the appointments of neil gorsuch and brett kavanaugh would allow mr trump to tilt the balance of the court firmly in the direction of conservatives. before ginsburgs death, there were five conservative and four liberal judges, though mr gorsuch has recently sided with his liberal colleagues on important decisions such as ruling that businesses could not discriminate against gay people.
Filling the court's vacant seat ahead of the us election could have a generational impact on us politics and society. conservatives have made it a priority to overturn roe v wade the law that made abortion legal across the us, and one of the most divisive decisions in us court history.
The court could also play a critical role in adjudicatingthe result of a disputed election between mr trump and mr biden in november, as well as several key policy decisions. the court is expected to rule shortly on the future of the affordable care act barack obama's trademark healthcare programme which republicans have vowed to overhaul, and will also play a decisive role on immigration, voting rights and the role of money in politics.
Senate minority leader chuck schumer told fellow democrats on saturday: let me be clear: if leader mcconnell and senate republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year. nothing is off the table.
Everything americans value is at stake, he said. healthcare, protections for pre-existing conditions, womens rights, gay rights, workers rights, labour rights, voting rights, civil rights, climate change, and so much else is at risk.
Several republicans have previously said they did not support confirming a new supreme court justice in an election year.
They include susan collins, the moderate republican from maine, chuck grassley, the former head of the senate judiciary committee, and lisa murkowski. ms murkowski, the senator for alaska, told an alaska radio station just hours before ginsburgs death was announced that she would not confirm a supreme court nominee this year.
Democrats were also closely watching mitt romney, the one republican senator who voted to convict mr trump at his impeachment trial.
By saturday morning, none of those senators had said how they would vote, with mr mcconnell reportedly having asked republican senators to keep their powder dry. democrats were due to meet later to decide their approach.
Additional reporting by courtney weaver in washington