Trump to unveil Supreme Court pick close to inauguration: aide

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump plans to unveil his choice to fill the lingering U.S. Supreme Court vacancy around the time of his Jan. 20 inauguration after the Republican-led Senate refused to consider President Barack Obama's nominee, a senior Trump aide said on Wednesday.

The top U.S. court has been down one justice since the death of long-serving conservative Antonin Scalia on Feb. 13, leaving it ideologically split with four conservatives and four liberals. Obama nominated appeals court judge Merrick Garland for the post on March 16 but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the customary confirmation process from proceeding.

Related: Supreme Court landmark cases

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Demonstrators carrying giant keep abortion legal buttons & ...protect Roe vs. Wade sign during huge pro-choice march. (Photo by Cynthia Johnson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
1966: Since 1966 police have to advise a suspect that they have the right to remain silent and the right to counsel during interrogation. The so called 'Miranda Warning' after Ernesto Miranda who had a retrial because he was not so advised. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
1963: Petitiion by Clarence Earl Gideon to the Chief Justice of the United States against a sentence imposed by a Florida court because he had not had legal representation. This resulted in the 5th Amendment whereby any individual accused of a crime is guaranteed 'due processes of law'. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
African American students at a segregated school following the supreme court case Plessy vs Ferguson established Separate But Equal, 1896. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) This sketch shows White House Watergate Attorney James St. Claire arguing before the Supreme Court over whether President Nixon could assert executive privilege in withholding evidence demanded by Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworksi in the Watergate cover-up trial. The Justices are (L to R), Chief Justice Warren Burger; William Brennan; Byron White; Henry Blackmun; and at right is the chair normally occupied by William Rehnquist, who withdrew from this case.
Supporters of gay marriage wave the rainbow flag after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry at the Supreme Court in Washington June 26, 2015. The court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law mean that states cannot ban same-sex marriages. With the ruling, gay marriage will become legal in all 50 states. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
(Original Caption) Schenectady, New York: Despite a ruling from Education Commissioner Ewald B. Nyquist that prayer meetings in school are 'constitutionally impermissible,' several Mohonasen High School pupils continue to hold 10 minute prayer session at the school. The school board gave permission for the meetings even though the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled out prayer in public schools. Comm. Nyquist's ruling upset the school board's permission for the meetings, but the students, who pointed out that Congress and the state legislature open with prayers, decided to keep up the practice.
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During an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Trump's incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the president-elect had not yet had any in-person interviews with potential Supreme Court nominees.

"I think that's going to be something that we're going to start after the new year," Priebus said. "And certainly by the time we get to inauguration, either shortly before or shortly thereafter, we'll reveal the name of who our nominee will be."

Scalia's replacement could tilt the ideological balance of the court for years to come, restoring the long-standing conservative majority just at a time when it appeared liberals would get an upper hand on the bench. This could be pivotal in wide range of issues including abortion, the death penalty, religious rights, presidential powers, transgender rights, federal regulations and others.

Related: Supreme Court Justices

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Supreme Court Justices

John Roberts, Chief Justice

Born: 1955

Joined Supreme Court: 2005

Appointed by: George W. Bush

Votes: Conservative

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is followed by Elena Kagan on her way to take the Judicial Oath to become the 112th US Supreme Court justice, in Washington on August 7, 2010. (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Born: 1933

Joined Supreme Court: 1993

Appointed by: Bill Clinton

Votes: Liberal

(Photo by Dennis Brack/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Anthony Kennedy

Born: 1936

Joined Supreme Court: 1988

Appointed by: Ronald Reagan

Votes: Conservative/Center

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy listens to opening statements during a Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Clarence Thomas

Born: 1948

Joined Supreme Court: 1991

Appointed by: George H.W. Bush

Votes: Conservative

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas testifies during a hearing before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee April 15, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Stephen Breyer

Born: 1938

Joined Supreme Court: 1994

Appointed by: Bill Clinton

Votes: Liberal/Center

United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer speaks at the Harvard University Institute of Politics John F. Kennedy School of Government John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum on November 6, 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

Samuel Alito

Born: 1950

Joined Supreme Court: 2006

Appointed by: George W. Bush

Votes: Conservative

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito speaks during the Georgetown University Law Center's third annual Dean's Lecture to the Graduating Class in the Hart Auditorium in McDonough Hall February 23, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sonia Sotomayor

Born: 1954

Joined Supreme Court: 2009

Appointed by: Barack Obama

Votes: Liberal

Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States Sonia Sotomayor discusses her book 'My Beloved World' presented in association with Books and Books at Bank United Center on February 1, 2013 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/FilmMagic)

Elena Kagan

Born: 1960

Joined Supreme Court: 2010

Appointed by: Barack Obama

Votes: Liberal

Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Elena Kagan speaks onstage at the FORTUNE Most Powerful Women Summit on October 16, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for FORTUNE)
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch participates in taking a new family photo with his fellow justices at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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Priebus said the age of the nominee will be a factor in Trump's deliberations, possibly preferring a relatively young jurist for the lifetime post. Priebus said that "I tend to believe younger is better" and "certainly longevity's a factor" but competence will be the most important component.

Trump previously unveiled a list of 21 conservative jurists he would consider for the job and said this month he had whittled the list down to "probably three or four."

The U.S. Constitution calls on the president to nominate members of the Supreme Court, with confirmation of the selection in the hands of the Senate. McConnell's Senate, in a move with little precedent in U.S. history, simply refused to consider the nomination, saying the winner of the Nov. 8 presidential election between Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton should make the pick.

RELATED: Ideology averages for justices

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