President Donald Trump is poised to announce his pick to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court on Tuesday, one of the most consequential moves of his administration thus far and a decision with ramifications that could long outlast his time in office; a seat on the Supreme Court is, in fact, a lifelong position. The president is set to unveil his pick during an 8 p.m. EST televised address from the White House.
According to sources, Trump reportedly made his selection from a group of three finalists, all federal appeals court judges appointed by former President George W. Bush: Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman and William Pryor, all of whom appeared on Trump's list of 21 possible choices that he made public during the campaign.
Gorsuch, 49, who serves on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, and Hardiman, 51, who serves alongside Trump's sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, are believed to have an edge, according to people with knowledge of the decision. Pryor's standing has appeared to slip, in part because his reputation as a staunch conservative seems likely to make him a rich target for Democratic senators in a confirmation hearing.
The ninth seat on the Supreme Court has been empty since Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. You may recall that President Barack Obama nominated U.S. Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland for the vacancy, but Senate Republicans blocked a vote and even hearings on the nomination.
As for how - exactly - the Republicans were able to block Obama's nomination: Well, Republicans held a majority in the Senate, giving Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky broad control over confirmation hearings and votes. McConnell argued that it was unfair for a president who was just months from being replaced to choose a court pick in the heat of an election season, angering the Obama administration and congressional Democrats, who have suggested they will likely seek to block any choice Trump makes. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has said Democrats will oppose any nominee outside the mainstream.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that "the criteria [of the President's nominee] in terms of academia background, time on the bench, the expertise and criteria meets the intent of both Republicans and Democrats."
Once Trump announces his nominee on Tuesday evening, even then, it is not necessarily set in stone. As CNN notes, the basics are laid out in the Constitution's Appointments Clause, which states: "He [the President] shall have the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law."
What "advise and consent" means in the modern era is that the Senate Judiciary Committee holds televised hearings with the nominee and then votes on the nomination; if the committee votes to move forward with the pick, the full Senate votes on confirmation.
To be confirmed, Trump's nominee will need a simple majority in the Senate. But Supreme Court nominees — at least as of now — can be still filibustered, which means that 60 senators must vote to keep the nomination alive. At least one Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, says he will try to block Trump's pick. If 41 senators decide to fight the nomination, it could get stuck and fail.