President Donald Trump says he will nominate a woman to sit on the US Supreme Court, a move that would 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," Trump said at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Saturday. "I think it should be a woman because I actually like women much more than men."
As Trump spoke, supporters chanted: "Fill that seat."
Trump, with a chance to nominate a third justice to a lifetime appointment, has named Amy Coney Barrett of the Chicago-based 7th Circuit and Barbara Lagoa of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit as possible nominees.
Ginsburg's death on Friday from cancer after 27 years on the court handed Trump, who is seeking re-election on November 3, the opportunity to expand its conservative majority to 6-3 at a time of a gaping political divide in America.
Trump tweeted earlier that the White House and Congress had the obligation to choose Supreme Court justices "without delay".
Any nomination would require approval in the Senate, where Trump's Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.
Not all Republican senators support the move: Maine's Susan Collins on Saturday said Trump should hold off on nominating.
"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," Collins, facing a tough re-election race herself, said on Twitter.
Democrats are still seething over the Republican Senate's refusal to act on Democratic president Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016 after conservative Justice Antonin Scalia died 10 months before that election.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said then the Senate should not act on a court nominee during an election year, a stance he has since reversed.
Even if Democrats win the White House and a Senate majority in the November election, Trump and McConnell have time as the full new Congress would not be sworn in until January 3.
Senior congressional Democrats raised the prospect of adding additional justices next year to counterbalance Trump's nominees if they win control of the White House and Senate in the November election.
McConnell, who has made confirmation of Trump's federal judicial nominees a top priority, said the chamber would vote on any Trump nominee.
Given they have few tools to block the eventual nomination from passing, Democrats plan to try to rally public opposition to the move.
"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," Democratic senator Chris Van Hollen said.
Obama himself on Saturday called on Senate Republicans to honour what he called that "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," Obama said in a statement.
Even before Ginsburg's death, Trump had made public a list of potential nominees.
Barrett has generated perhaps the most interest in conservative circles.
A devout Roman Catholic, she was a legal scholar at Notre Dame Law School before Trump appointed her to the Chicago-based 7th Circuit in 2017.
Lagoa has served on the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals for less than a year after being appointed by Trump. She also spent less than a year in her previous position as the first Latina to serve on the Florida Supreme Court.
The two justices already appointed by Trump were Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
Conservative activists for years have sought to get enough votes on the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark abortion decision Roe v Wade. But the court in July, even with its conservative majority, struck down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law on a 5-4 vote.
Australian Associated Press