What names will President Donald Trump likely send to the Senate to fill the seat left open by the passing of Mr Justice Antonin Scalia, last year?
Three rather youthful judges top the list of 21 Trump presented during his presidential campaign
Neil Gorsuch, 49-year-old judge of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado
Thomas Michael Hardiman, 51-year-old judge of the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
William H Pryor Jr, of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals judge, 54, based in Atlanta, Ga
Donald Trump has always expressed his desire to tilt the Supreme conservative leaning in a nominee
All three leading nominees considered strongly conservative jurists
Senate Democrats led by Charles Schumer willing to block confirmation and leave the seat open if Trump does not name a “mainstream nominee”
Donald Trump is expected to name his nominee for the US Supreme Court on Tuesday night
Three youthful judges – Thomas Michael Hardiman, judge of the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, William H Pryor Jr of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals judge, 54, based in Atlanta, Georgia and Neil Gorsuch, 49, of the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado are considered to have the best chances, according to those inside the process.
Given the immense interest in maintaining the conservative – liberal split in the court since it has tremendous impact on US political life, the nominee will face tough questions from the Senate during any confirmation hearings.
Donald Trump has always expressed his desire to tilt the Supreme conservative leaning in a nominee
At the starting gate, Donald Trump has made clear he wants a conservative justice. He has specifically said his Supreme Court picks would be pro-gun rights, anti-same-sex marriage and would take a hard line on deporting undocumented immigrants.
When asked at the third debate, Mr Trump said he expects the landmark 1973 ruling on abortion, Roe v Wade, to be overturned under his presidency.
“That’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court,” he said.
In fact, a case would have to be tried elsewhere before being heard by the court, it would not happen “automatically”.
He also described a justice who would “interpret the Constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted,” an originalist like Antonin Scalia.
The court already has cases this term on the rights of transgender students, gerrymandered voting districts and on a Texas’ death penalty determination.
It is also likely the court will hear cases on voter rights, abortion, racial bias in policing and in the legal system, as well as US immigration policy in the upcoming years.
Mr Trump’s executive order on banning refugees and travellers from Muslim-majority nations may also end up on the Supreme Court’s plate.
While a majority of Supreme Court cases do not break on ideological lines, there are conservative and liberal wings. Key cases have been decided on 5-4 votes.
With Scalia’s death, the court is arguably divided four-four.
Confirming a conservative justice with similar views to Scalia would ultimately return the court to a narrow conservative majority, but it would not guarantee wins on all the issues Mr Trump has described as a priority.
Justice Anthony Kennedy is considered the court’s swing vote, having sided with both the conservative and liberal justices on major cases.
Liberals and legal advocates on the other side of these issues are also concerned about the potential for Mr Trump to nominate a second justice during his term.
In March, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a federal appeals judge, for the empty seat. But Republicans refused to hold a hearing or vote on Mr Garland’s nomination, and he is no longer under consideration.
During their year without a ninth justice, the court continued to work, with some cases affected by Scalia’s death.
A 4-4 deadlock on Mr Obama’s immigration order left the legal status of about four million undocumented immigrants in limbo. Public sector labour unions got a temporary win in another tied case, but no precedent was set because of the split.
But the court also rejected a conservative challenge to a university affirmation action policy in a 4-3 vote, after Justice Kagan recused herself. And justices voted 5-3 to strike down a pair of Texas abortion restriction laws.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer has said congressional Democrats would be willing to block confirmation and leave the seat open if Mr Trump does not name a “mainstream nominee”.
Strong conservative with strong family connections: Neil Gorsuch, Judge of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver
Highly regarded in conservative jurist, some media outlets have reported that Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is the leading candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
Mr Gorsuch, who lives in Denver, Colorado, has served on the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals since 2006. At 49 Gorsuch is the youngest of the group and boasts an academic pedigree typical of Supreme Court Justices, Columbia University, Harvard Law School and stints at Oxford.
He also clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and previously served as a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.
Mr Gorsuch known to share the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s strict interpretation of the US constitution, which is that it should be followed as the Founding Fathers intended.
At the 2013 Federalist Society National Lawyers Convention he spoke of the scolding some Supreme Court justices can take for upholding their Federalist values.
“They are mocked, often viciously, personally; leading media voices to call them deceiving,” he said.
Former Colorado U.S. Attorney Mike Norton, a member of the conservative Centennial Institute, speaks highly of Gorsuch personally and professionally:
“He says what he means and means what he says, and comes down typically on the conservative side of the agenda,” Norton said.
Thomas Michael Hardiman
Blue collar conservative: Thomas Michael Hardiman, judge of the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
The Philadelphia-based judge, 51, has served since 2007 on the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburgh, the same court in which the president’s sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, resides. Hardiman who has been sitting on the federal bench for the past 10 years, has not followed the typical path to the Supreme Court.
With no, an Ivy League law school background, the jersuit trained Hardiman graduated from Notre Dame and Georgetown Law School. He was the first person in his family to go to college and supported himself in law school by driving a taxi.
The blue collar judge has supported gun rights and police powers, including a case in which he sided with jails seeking to strip-search all inmates.
Hardiman is one of three candidates who has emerged from the list of 21 possible Supreme Court nominees President Donald Trump revealed during his campaign, although some others remain under consideration.
Liberal groups oppose Hardiman as a Supreme Court choice, highlighting his opinions that have protected gun owners and limited the ability of citizens to hold police accountable.
Opponents of his potential nomination note that in Second Amendment cases, he has adopted a view more expansive than what the current Supreme Court has endorsed.
William H Pryor
The most controversial of the picks: William H Pryor Jr, judge of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, Georgia – Will likely face tough confirmation hearing
The 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals judge, 54, lives in Atlanta, Georgia. He previously served as Alabama’s attorney general, preceding Senator Jeff Sessions, Mr Trump’s choice for US attorney general.
If confirmed, he would be the only member of the U.S. Supreme Court who did a stint as a politician, and it was during that time that he took some of his most notable positions on civil rights and discrimination cases.
Very much an independent thinker, William Pryor has criticised the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark abortion ruling Roe v Wade as “the worst abomination of constitutional law”.
He also came under fire from conservatives for siding with a transgender woman who sued for sex discrimination in 2011. His screening is likely going to be an uphill battle.
When President George W. Bush nominated him to his current post in 2003, Senate Democrats refused to allow Pryor’s confirmation, calling him an “extremist,” citing his position on both Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas as examples. To have him seated on the bench, George Bush bypassed regular Senate confirmation and appointed him when the Senate was in recess. His confirmation was delayed two years,until a deal was struck between Republicans and Democrats, allowing Pryor to receive his official Senate confirmation.
Equally disparaged by the extreme left and extreme right, Pryor is perhaps the most polarizing figure of the potential nominees, with some groups thinking he leans too far right while other groups view him as leaning too far left. Ironically the antagonism is mostly based on the same rulings.
The editorial page of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has labeled him a “right-wing zealot” and the Alliance for Justice has joined with at least a half-dozen other liberal and Democratic groups to campaign against him. “On issue after issue, whether as an advocate or as a judge, he has taken the most far right positions,” said Daniel Goldberg, legal director of Alliance for Justice.
At the same time, Conservative Christians of Alabama refer to him as “the liberal Bill Pryor” and the conservative Judicial Action Group is campaigning against his possible nomination, saying his decisions on some gay and transgender rights cases illustrate how he “has failed to interpret the Constitution as the framers intended.”