Donald Trump met with Seventh Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House on Monday, another signal she is a top contender for his nomination to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week.
Ms Barrett, who was confirmed in 2017 for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that covers Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, is one of five women the president is considering for his pick, he told reporters on Monday before boarding a plane for Ohio for a series of campaign stops.
“She's one of the people that's very respected, but they're all respected,” Mr Trump said, when asked whether Ms Barrett was on his short list. “She is certainly one of the candidates, yes.”
Several news outlets have reported that while Mr Trump has officially narrowed down his list to five women to replace Justice Ginsburg, who died last Friday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, Ms Barrett and 11th Circuit Court Judge Barbara Lagoa have emerged as the two favourites.
The president plans to announce his selection on Friday or Saturday, after the conclusion of all funeral ceremonies for Justice Ginsburg.
Ms Barrett was one of the president’s finalists in 2018 to replace retired conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy. Mr Trump ultimately selected Brett Kavanaugh, then a judge on the powerful DC Circuit Appeals Court and a protege of Justice Kennedy, for whom he had clerked.
A practicing Catholic and professor at Notre Dame Law School, Ms Barrett has drawn scrutiny for her past comments about using the her legal career as a vehicle to advance her faith.
At her confirmation hearing to the Seventh Circuit in 2017, Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California cast doubt on Ms Barrett’s ability to put legal precedent over her Catholic belief system.
“I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that's of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have thought for, for years in this country,” Ms Feinstein said at the time.
Ms Barrett responded that she would “follow all Supreme Court precedent without fail” and would “never impose my own personal convictions upon the law.”
Republicans plan to forge ahead with a vote on Mr Trump’s nomination later this year despite the fact Justice Ginsburg died less than 50 days before the 2020 election.
When Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said later that same day he would not hold any confirmation proceedings for then-President Barack Obama’s pick, arguing that the election process was already underway and “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.”
That was more than seven months before the 2016 presidential election.
The Senate leader, who is up for re-election in Kentucky this year, took to the chamber floor on Monday to try to explain why this year’s nomination process is different from 2016.
Mr McConnell differentiated Mr Obama's 2016 selection of DC Circuit Court Judge Merrick Garland to replace Justice Scalia from the circumstances this year by saying there was "divided government" in 2016, whereas Republicans control both the Senate and the White House now.
Mr Obama was asking for "an unusual favor" for an opposite party-controlled Senate to confirm his Supreme Court pick in an election year, Mr McConnell said on Monday, citing historical examples of his 2016 strategy.
Mr McConnell vowed a vote on Mr Trump’s nomination by the end of 2020, and even teased a possible vote by the 3 November elections.
"The Senate has more than sufficient time to process the nomination" before Election Day, Mr McConnell said on Monday, although he did not commit to holding a vote before then.
The Senate could also vote on Mr Trump's nominee in the lame-duck session after the election.
Later on Monday, Lindsey Graham confirmed that the GOP had enough support from Senators for a vote before the election.