Colorado-based judge emerges as leading Supreme Court candidate

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump has made clear he's winnowed down his list of potential Supreme Court nominees -- and might be days away from making the announcement.

One person reported to be near the top of the list is Judge Neil Gorsuch, who sits on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Denver.

On Tuesday, Trump said he would make the announcement next week.

Trump said on the campaign trail that he would look at judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes as top contenders, and has touted a list of 20 possible choices from conservative legal circles.

Sources close to the search say as things stand now, Gorsuch has emerged on top of the list as well as Judge Thomas Hardiman.

"I think in my mind I know who it is," Trump said during a luncheon at his hotel last week with Republicans, according to cellphone video of the event. "I think you're going to be very, very excited."

In recent weeks, the search has intensified as lawyers and outside groups have joined the effort pouring through legal briefs, opinions, articles and congressional transcripts.

The decision will all come down to a calculation by top staff weighing the judge and the current court against a series of factors, including their record, age and background.

Gorsuch has become a favored candidate in part because of his opinions on religious liberty, including one he joined siding with closely held corporations who believed that the so-called contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act violated their religious beliefs.

And on more than one occasion, he has aligned himself with late Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the weeks after Scalia's death last year, Gorsuch gave a talk emphasizing that "the great project of Justice Scalia's career was to remind us of the differences between judges and legislators."

Trump might conclude Gorsuch could sidestep a major fight in Congress.

Or not. Liberals are still seething mad that Republican senators failed to hold hearings for former President Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, and could take it out on Gorsuch, or anyone else Trump picks.

"Those of us who believe that Merrick Garland was improperly denied a vote and also recognize that the majority of the American people voted for Hillary Clinton are going to refuse a nominee who moves the court in such a a right wing direction," said Caroline Fredrickson of the American Constitution Society.

It is unclear if progressives would accept any of Trump's nominees that have been a part of his current list.

Besides Gorsuch, three other judges are being heavily considered for the nomination: William Pryoor, who sits on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals; Diane Sykes, who hails from Wisconsin; and Thomas Hardima, who sits on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.