White House hopeful Joe Biden on Sunday branded Donald Trump's moves to fill a Supreme Court vacancy less than two months before the US presidential election an "abuse of power," as some of the president's own party also objected.

The prospect of an expedited Senate confirmation vote has sparked furious pushback from Democrats desperate to stop Trump moving the court lastingly to the right.

A US flag outside the Supreme Court in Washington as crowds gathered to pay respects to late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg A US flag outside the Supreme Court in Washington as crowds gathered to pay respects to late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Photo: AFP / Jose Luis Magana

 

Two Republican senators have also registered their opposition to any rushed vote to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the popular liberal justice who died Friday at 87.

Biden, speaking Sunday in Philadelphia, accused Trump of exercising "raw political power" by attempting to "ram" through his court choice amidst a bitterly fought election campaign.

"I believe voters will make it clear -- they will not stand for this abuse of power, this constitutional abuse," said Biden, who urged the Senate not to act until after the November 3 election.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden delivers a statement on the passing of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden delivers a statement on the passing of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Photo: AFP / JIM WATSON

 

"If Donald Trump wins the election, then the Senate should move on his selection -- and weigh that nominee fairly. But if I win the election, President Trump's nomination should be withdrawn."

The president said Saturday that he is going to "move quickly" and that he expected to announce his nominee in the coming week and that it "will be a woman -- a very talented, very brilliant woman."

Biden urged a handful of wavering Republican senators to "follow your conscience."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC in 2018 Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC in 2018 Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

 

The timing of a Senate vote -- before the election or in the lame-duck session immediately afterward -- remains unclear.

Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said no vote should take place before the election, and Susan Collins of Maine asserted that the choice should be left to whoever is elected in November.

With Republicans holding 53 of the 100 Senate seats, Democrats face an uphill battle in blocking a Trump nominee.

People gather outside the US Supreme Court in Washington DC and in New York City to honour late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday at 87 years old
nited States President Donald Trump says he will "most likely" pick a woman to succeed Ruth Bad People gather outside the US Supreme Court in Washington DC and in New York City to honour late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday at 87 years old nited States President Donald Trump says he will "most likely" pick a woman to succeed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, and adds that the choice of a woman "would certainly be appropriate". Photo: AFPTV / Celine GESRET

 

Either way, politicians in both parties are bracing for a seismic battle in a year that has already seen an impeachment vote, the Covid-19 pandemic and a bruising economic collapse.

 

Donald Trump speaks at an election rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 19, 2020 Donald Trump speaks at an election rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on September 19, 2020 Photo: AFP / Brendan Smialowski

 

 

Among the Democrats' few options: delaying tactics in the Senate and efforts to mobilize public pressure on more moderate Republicans to split with their party.

"We have our options... arrows in our quiver," House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a senior Democrat, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to make a statement on nominating the replacement of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to make a statement on nominating the replacement of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Photo: AFP / ROBERTO SCHMIDT

 

She offered few details but ruled out the possibility of a government shutdown.

The court vacancy has provided a welcome new theme for Trump -- who has struggled to play down the toll of the coronavirus pandemic, now fast nearing the grim total of 200,000 deaths.

Pelosi seemed intent on keeping the virus issue front and center, returning to that theme repeatedly during her ABC interview, just as Biden emphasized it in his speech.

 

 

Democrats are decrying what they say is the hypocrisy of Republicans -- particularly Senate leader Mitch McConnell -- who in 2016 blocked Barack Obama's attempt, much earlier in that election year, to fill another Supreme Court vacancy.

But Republicans now insist that the situation this year is different, with the same party controlling both the Senate and White House.

"The right thing is for the Senate to confirm before Election Day," Republican Senator Ted Cruz told ABC.

Both parties see the balance of the court -- as it rules on vexed issues including abortion, healthcare, gun control and LGBTQ rights -- as of utmost importance.

Conservatives now control five of the nine court seats, but Chief Justice John Roberts sometimes sides with liberals.

If confirmed quickly enough, a new conservative justice would be part of a 6-3 majority, and could play a crucial role -- in their first months on the court -- if the November election faces legal challenges.

Cruz, who was on a Trump list of potential court nominees, insisted Sunday that a full court was needed to avoid a critical deadlock should a battle over the election outcome reach the Supreme Court.

"An equally divided 4-4 court can't decide anything," Cruz said. "We need a full court on Election Day."

Media reports say Trump is focused on two potential justices: Amy Coney Barrett, a 48-year-old federal appeals court judge based in Chicago, and Barbara Lagoa, 52, a federal judge from Miami.

 

Analysts said Lagoa, as a Cuban-American, could help Trump win votes in the key state of Florida.

No date has been set for Ginsburg's funeral or a public memorial service, sure to be a major national event.