WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - President Donald Trump has said that he will nominate a woman to sit on the US Supreme Court, a move that could tip the court further to the right following the death of liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
"I will be putting forth a nominee next week. It will be a woman," Mr Trump said at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina on Saturday (Sept 19) that stretched for more than 90 minutes.
"I think it should be a woman because I actually like women much more than men."
As Mr Trump spoke, supporters chanted: "Fill that seat."
He praised Ms Ginsburg as a "legal giant... Her landmark rulings, fierce devotion to justice and her courageous battle against cancer inspire all Americans".
Earlier, he praised two women as possible choices for the US Supreme Court: conservatives he elevated to federal appeals courts.
Mr Trump named Ms Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit and Ms Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible nominees for a lifetime appointment to the highest US court. It would be his third appointment during his first term.
Mr Trump said it was his constitutional right to appoint a successor for Ms Ginsburg, and he would do so, citing similar moves by presidents dating back to George Washington. "We have plenty of time. You're talking about Jan 20," Mr Trump said, referring to the date of the next inauguration.
Ms Ginsburg's death on Friday from cancer after 27 years on the court handed Mr Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov 3, the opportunity to expand its conservative majority to 6-3 at a time of a gaping political divide in America.
Any nomination would require approval by a simple majority in the Senate, where Mr Trump's Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.
Not all Republican senators supported the move: Maine's Senator Susan Collins on Saturday said a nomination should wait.
"In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the President or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the President who is elected on November 3rd," Ms Collins, facing a tough re-election race herself, said in a statement.
Democrats are still seething over the Republican Senate's refusal in 2016 to act on Democratic president Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland to replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died 10 months before that election.
At the time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate should not act on a nominee during an election year, but he and other top Republican senators have reversed that stance.
Even if Democrats win the White House and a Senate majority in the November election, Mr Trump and Mr McConnell might be able to push through their choice before the new president and Congress are sworn in on Jan 20.
Senior congressional Democrats raised the prospect of adding more justices next year to counterbalance Mr Trump's nominees if they win control of the White House and Senate.
"Let me be clear: if Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans move forward with this, then nothing is off the table for next year," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told fellow Democrats on a Saturday conference call, according to a source who listened to the call.
Mr McConnell, who has made confirmation of Mr Trump's federal judicial nominees a priority, said the chamber would vote on any Trump nominee. Democrats, with few tools to block passage of a nominee, plan to try to rally public opposition.
"The focus needs to be showing the public what's at stake in this fight. And what's at stake is really people's access to affordable healthcare, workers' rights and women's rights," said Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen in a telephone interview.
Mr Obama on Saturday called on Senate Republicans to honour what he called Mr McConnell's "invented" 2016 principle.
"A basic principle of the law - and of everyday fairness - is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what's convenient or advantageous in the moment," Mr Obama said in a statement posted online.