President Donald Trump said Friday he will announce his nominee to be the next US Supreme Court justice on July 9, a decision with momentous implications for the country's future.
"I've got it narrowed to about five" candidates, including two women, Trump told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One as he headed to New Jersey.
"I like them all," Trump said.
A slot on the nine-member bench is opening after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement this week.
For years, the conservative has served as the tie-breaking vote on some of the country's biggest cases, siding with liberals on issues such as abortion, gay rights and granting constitutional rights to terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay.
In nominating his successor, Trump has the opportunity to shift the high court decisively to the right for decades to come, and a monumental battle over the process is already brewing.
And Kennedy was not the eldest member of the court -- liberal stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 85, and has indicated she has no intention of retiring.
Experts and lawmakers alike have said the fate of American women's rights might be at stake, with a conservative new justice potentially providing enough support to overturn the landmark 1973 court ruling upholding abortion rights.
But Trump said he would not directly probe the candidates about their position on the Roe v. Wade decision.
"I'm not going to ask them that question," Trump said.
But during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump had vowed to seek to place a "pro-life justice on the court."
Three women currently serve on the bench: Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. All were appointed by Democratic presidents.
A fourth woman on the court would be a US record.
Trump has said he will pick Kennedy's successor from a list of 25 people, many of whom are young judges in their 40s or 50s.
Six women are on the list, including Seventh Circuit Judge Amy Barrett, age 46, and 10th Circuit Judge Allison Eid, 53. Both were being closely vetted, Politico said, citing a person familiar with White House thinking on the nomination.
Choosing a female justice might help soothe concerns among the two most moderate Republicans in the senate, both of whom are women.
Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the chamber and Trump can ill afford any defections.
One possible nominee who is not a judge is Senator Mike Lee, a 47-year-old conservative Republican who earlier worked in private legal practice and as an assistant US attorney.
"He's an outstanding talent," Trump said of Lee, noting that he saw the senator on television Thursday saying "he would love the job."
Trump said one or two court prospects would likely come to his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, possibly over the weekend "just for an interview." He anticipated interviewing "six or seven" candidates altogether.
Kennedy's retirement announcement Wednesday provided Trump with an opportunity to place a second justice on the all-important court. His first nominee, Neil Gorsuch, earned Senate confirmation last year.
Should Trump announce his pick as advertised, it would mark just 13 days since Kennedy's announcement.
By contrast, then-president Barack Obama took more than a month after the February 2016 death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia to nominate a replacement, Merrick Garland.
A confirmation vote for Garland was never held, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell determined it was too close to the presidential election.
The partisan wrangling at the time will surely pale in comparison to the vigorous fight anticipated for Kennedy's replacement.
Days after Trump's inauguration, the new president nominated Gorsuch as Scalia's replacement.
But with Trump now enjoying a second shot at shaping the court well past his own term, Democrats are in a panic that the president will appoint another deeply conservative justice.
Democrats immediately called for a delay in the confirmation process until after the seating of a new Congress following November's mid-term elections, arguing it was even closer to the election now than when Scalia died in 2016.
But McConnell rejected the demand as absurd, insisting the Senate's confirmation vote would occur "this fall."