ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, June 29 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he plans to announce his nominee for a coming vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court on July 9 and that he has identified five finalists, including two women.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One en route from Washington to his private golf club in New Jersey, Trump said he may interview two contenders for the nomination this weekend.
He said he will not ask candidates whether they would overturn a 1973 ruling in the Roe v Wade case, which established a woman’s right to abortion, nor would he discuss gay rights with them.
The president’s nominee must win confirmation by the Senate. Republicans control the chamber but only by a slim majority, making the views of moderates, including some Democrats, important.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday he hoped the confirmation process would be done “in time for the new justice to begin the fall term of the Supreme Court ... the first Monday in October.”
White House aide Marc Short said on MSNBC that the White House hoped for a Senate confirmation vote in September.
That schedule would put a new justice in place before the congressional mid-term elections in November, when all seats in the House of Representatives and a third of those in the Senate will be contested.
Trump met on Thursday with senators from both parties at the White House to discuss the court vacancy created by the retirement of Kennedy, which was announced on Wednesday.
While Kennedy was a conservative, he proved to be a somewhat unpredictable “swing” vote over his long career. For example, he sided with the court’s liberals by voting in favor of abortion rights in key cases. That issue was expected to be one that senators will ask the new nominee about in confirmation hearings, even if the president does not.
Kennedy’s replacement could cast a deciding vote on limiting or ending the right to abortion.
“I do not apply ideological litmus tests to nominees, but I want to see integrity, intellect, a respect for precedent and adherence to the rule of law,” moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins told Reuters when asked about Roe v. Wade.
Collins, who favors a woman’s right to choose on abortion, joined like-minded Republican Lisa Murkowski at the White House meeting. Also attending were Republican Charles Grassley and Democrats Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly and Heidi Heitkamp.
Democrat Bill Nelson, asked by reporters if a nominee’s views on Roe v. Wade will be important to him, said, “very.”
(Additional reporting by Makini Brice Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh, Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman)