WASHINGTON: Signs and flowers are left at a makeshift memorial in front of the US Supreme Court for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday. - AFP

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said yesterday he will announce his nominee for the empty Supreme Court seat at the end of this week, kick-starting a political fight set to upend the already nail-biting US election. "I will announce it either Friday or Saturday and then the work begins, but hopefully it won't be too much work," Trump said in an interview with Fox News.

Down in the polls against Democratic opponent Joe Biden and widely criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Republican is seizing on the sudden vacancy at the constitutional court as a way to change the subject and supercharge his rightwing base. The death last week of Ruth Bader Ginsburg stripped the court, which was already tilted to the right, of one of its steadiest liberal votes.

With a chance to name his third new justice since entering the White House, Trump is now on the cusp of installing a firmly conservative majority for many years to come. Biden is leading calls for the Republican-controlled Senate to delay voting on a nominee until the results of the November 3 election are known, arguing that to rush through confirmation before would be an "abuse of power."

But Trump made clear yesterday that he has no qualms in flexing his political muscle and his allies in the Senate have said they intend to deliver. Trump said his nominee announcement will wait until after memorial services for Ginsburg are completed. But then he wants to move full speed ahead. "The final vote should be taken before the election. We have plenty of time for that," Trump said.

Trump cited fears that a court with only eight judges left could end up in a 4-4 split on rulings following what is likely to be a close and contentious election. "We don't want to have a tie," Trump said. He rejected Democratic complaints, saying if they "were in the same position there is zero chance that they wouldn't do it". "They wouldn't even talk about it. They'd say 'you're crazy.'"

Trump confirmed that two women - Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge Barbara Lagoa - feature prominently on his short list. He also noted Lagoa is a Hispanic-American from Florida, a state that by some projections he has to win if he has any hope of securing a second term. Lagoa is "excellent, she's Hispanic, she's a terrific woman", he said. "We love Florida."

Analysts say that a Supreme Court nomination saga could also shift attention away from the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed nearly 200,000 Americans, and inspire Republican voters who want the Supreme Court to reflect their conservative views on issues like immigration, abortion and healthcare.

There are risks for Trump, though. Ginsburg was an icon to the left and the fight to replace her with a conservative ahead of an election that Biden is currently on track to win might stir Democrats even more than Republicans. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 62 percent of Americans, including one in two Republicans, think the vacant court seat should be filled only after the election.

In another potential warning sign to gung-ho Republicans, the Democratic fundraising group ActBlue reported Sunday that small donors had given a total of $100 million since Ginsburg's death. Trump, however, signaled he'll play hardball, rejecting reports that Ginsburg while on her deathbed told her granddaughter that her final wish was for her seat to be filled by the new president. "I don't know she said that," Trump said, suggesting the statement was "written out" by Democratic leaders. "That came out of the wind." - AFP