Republicans have secured the numbers needed to ensure that President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will face a confirmation vote in the Senate.
Senator Mitt Romney of Utah has given the party the 51 backers needed to move forward with voting on Mr. Trump’s candidate to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday.
Democrats argued there should be no confirmation in an election year.
The move guarantees a bitter political battle going into November’s vote.
President Trump says he will announce his chosen nominee on Saturday at 17:00 local time (22:00b), and has vowed to pick a woman.
Supreme Court justices are nominated to the bench by the US president, but must be approved by the Senate.
With the death of Justice Ginsburg, a liberal stalwart, Mr. Trump has been given the chance to cement a rightward ideological tilt of the nine-member court by replacing her with a conservative.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to hold a confirmation vote before the election in November, but a question mark had hung all week over whether enough Republicans in the chamber would back him.
Although they hold a slim majority with 53 seats, two centrist Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – said they were sceptical of confirming a lifetime judicial appointment in an election year.
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On Tuesday, Ms. Collins told reporters she would vote “no”, saying the Senate ought to follow the “same set of rules” it used in 2016 to block then-President Barack Obama’s top court nominee. Ms. Collins is facing a tough re-election bid this year.
Mr. Romney, a Trump critic who the president called “our worst senator” earlier this month, was seen as a possible defector. Mr. Romney is one of the few Republicans in Washington willing to criticise Mr. Trump in public and voted earlier this year to convict him during his impeachment trial.
However, in a statement released on Tuesday, Mr. Romney said he would give Mr. Trump’s nominee a hearing, citing “historical precedent”.
“My decision regarding a Supreme Court nomination is not the result of a subjective test of ‘fairness’ which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder,” he said.
“It is based on the immutable fairness of following the law, which in this case is the Constitution and precedent. The historical precedent of election year nominations is that the Senate generally does not confirm an opposing party’s nominee but does confirm a nominee of its own.”