United States President Donald Trump has said he will next week nominate a woman to replace the late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, escalating a political row with the Democrats over her successor weeks before the presidential election.
"I will be putting forth a nominee next week. I could say most likely it would be a woman. I think I can say that. If somebody were to ask me now I would say that a woman would be in first place," Trump told supporters at an election rally in North Carolina on Saturday.
Ginsburg, a history-making jurist, feminist icon and a champion of women's rights and social justice, died of cancer on Friday. She was 87.
She was the second woman ever to serve as a justice on the nation's highest court.
Trump said he is within his rights to fill the vacancy in the US Supreme Court, a move that has infuriated Democrats, who fear Republicans will vote to lock in a decades-long conservative majority on the country's top court.
"We have great respect for the process. This has happened numerous times and every time there was a nominee as you know. There's been many occasions where frankly it turned out to be during a presidential year," he told reporters.
"I think we're going to start the process extremely soon. We will have a nominee very soon," he said, adding that there about 45 people on his list, but he does have a "short list" for potential nominees.
During the campaign rally, Trump asked his Republican supporters whether the nominee should be a man or a woman. The crowd cheered loudly for a female candidate.
"That's a very accurate poll (crowd reaction) because that's the way I feel. I actually like women much more than I like men. I have to say. It would be a woman. A very talented, very intelligent woman," the president said, adding that a final name had not been zeroed in on.
He also discussed how he has the power to fill the vacant seat in the Supreme Court where justices serve for life or until they choose to retire.
"So, Article 2 of the Constitution says that the President shall nominate justices of the Supreme Court. I don't think it can be any more clear, can it?" Trump asked, prompting chants of "Fill that seat!" from the rally crowd.
On Friday night the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement just hours after Ginsburg passed away that, "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."
US media reported that Trump raised the names of federal appeals Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge on the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit Barbara Lagoa as potential nominees during his call with McConnell on Friday. Both are conservatives who would tip the balance of the Supreme Court in favour of the Republicans.
Democrats have vigorously opposed any nomination to the Supreme Court before the November 3 election, arguing that in 2016 Senate Republicans blocked the choice of Merrick Garland by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Trump's Democratic rival in the November 3 presidential election, Joe Biden, insists the decision on Ginsburg's replacement should wait until after the vote.
"Voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice to consider," the former vice president said.
"This was the position of Republican Senate took in 2016. When there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today.
"And the election is only 46 days off. I think the fastest justice ever confirmed was 47 days. And the average is closer to 70 days. And so, we should do this with full consideration. And that is my hope and expectation of what will happen," Biden said.
The ideological balance of the nine-member Supreme Court is crucial to its rulings on the most important issues in US law.
Ginsburg's death has created a vacancy on the bench which many conservatives view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move the makeup of the court from its current split of five conservative justices and four liberal justices to a more dominant 6-3 majority.
So far, Trump has nominated two judges to the Supreme Court -- Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
While condoling the demise of Justice Ginsburg, former US president Obama urged Senate Republicans to uphold the standard they set in 2016 when they blocked his nominee.
"Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought to the end, through her cancer, with unwavering faith in our democracy and its ideals. That's how we remember her. But she also left instructions for how she wanted her legacy to be honoured.
"Four-and-a-half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn't fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in," Obama noted.
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," the former president underlined.