President-election Donald Trump said he would likely nominate a Supreme Court justice within two weeks of his Jan. 20th swearing-in, a timetable that might allow a new member of the court to participate in final arguments of the current term.
The court has been operating without a ninth member since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last February. Republican Senate leaders refused to hold even a hearing for President Obama’s choice to fill the seat, U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland, saying the winner of the November election should make the choice.
At his news conference Wednesday, Trump said the strategy was important in November.
“I think it’s one of the reasons I got elected,” Trump said. “I think the people of this country did not want to see what was happening with the Supreme Court, so I think it was a very, very big decision as to why I was elected.”
Polls show that nearly 60 percent of those who said the Supreme Court was the most important factor in making their choice for president voted for Trump.
Trump has developed a list of potential nominees with the help of the conservative legal group The Federalist Society and the think tank The Heritage Foundation. He indicated again Wednesday that he is sticking with his pledge to make his first choice from that list.
“I have a list of 20. I’ve gone through them,” Trump said. “We’ve met with numerous candidates. They’re outstanding in every case.”
Trump actually has 21 names on the list he released during the campaign, but he has mentioned “20” several times since then. It is unclear if he is rounding off the number, or if someone once on the list is no longer under consideration. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is on the list, for instance, but has said he did not vote for Trump.
There is no set timetable for how long it takes to confirm a nominee.
Among the most recent confirmed justices, it took 87 days from nomination to confirmation for Elena Kagan; 82 for Samuel A. Alito Jr.; 66 for Sonia Sotomayor and 62 total for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who first was nominated to be an associate justice and then elevated upon the intervening death of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.
If the Republican-led Senate moves quickly on Trump’s nominee, it could be possible for the new justice to sit with his or her colleagues when the court convenes for its final two weeks of oral arguments beginning April 17.
Additionally, if the current eight members are deadlocked on a case, the court could call for a special rehearing. The court finishes its work by the end of June.
Trump has reportedly narrowed his list of possibilities. It is thought to include at least two judges—William Pryor of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and Diane Sykes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit—who Trump has mentioned as the kind of judge he’d look for in replacing the conservative Scalia.
Others who are favorites of the groups Trump has looked to for guidance include federal appeals court judges Thomas Hardiman, Steven Colloton and Neil Gorsuch.