WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump has narrowed his choice to fill the Supreme Court vacancy to three judges and said he expects to make his decision in the coming days.
A person familiar with the selection process said that the three judges, all white men who sit on federal appeals courts, were on the list of 21 potential high court picks Trump announced during the presidential campaign.
The leading contenders - who all have met with Trump - are William Pryor, Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, the person said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly about internal decisions.
Pryor, 54, is an Alabama-based judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Gorsuch, 49, is on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Hardiman, 51, sits on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburgh. All three were nominated by President George W. Bush for their current posts.
Trump has promised to seek someone in the mold of conservative icon Antonin Scalia, who died nearly a year ago after serving on the Supreme Court for more than 29 years. Senate Republicans prevented President Barack Obama from filling the seat, a political gamble that paid off when Trump was elected.
Trump was scheduled to meet later Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. Dianne Feinstein to discuss the court vacancy. McConnell wrote on Twitter, "I appreciate his soliciting our advice." Trump said he plans to announce his choice next week.
McConnell led the Senate in refusing to even to consider Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to take Scalia's seat, announcing on the night that Scalia died that the vacancy should be filled not by Obama, but by the next president.
Schumer, D-N.Y., said last week on CNN that the Democrats would inevitably push back against anyone Trump nominates for the Supreme Court.
"It's hard for me to imagine a nominee that Donald Trump would choose that would get Republican support, that we could support," he said.
Of the three leading candidates, only Pryor faced significant opposition to his appellate nomination. Senate Democrats refused to allow a vote on Pryor's nomination, leading Bush initially to give Pryor a temporary recess appointment. In 2005, the Senate confirmed him 53-45, after senators reached an agreement to curtail delaying tactics for appellate judgeships.
Gorsuch was approved by a voice vote in 2006. Schumer and Feinstein were among the 95 senators who voted for Hardiman's confirmation in 2007. Hardiman is a colleague of Trump's sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry.
Trump praised the candidates on his roster after signing several executive actions on Tuesday in the Oval Office. "We have outstanding candidates," the president said. "And we'll pick a truly great Supreme Court justice."
He said he would be making a decision this week, and announce it next week.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.