The US Senate is bracing itself for a critical vote on moving ahead with the nomination of controversial candidate Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
The vote, which is expected to take place at around 10:30am (14:30 GMT) on Friday, comes as Republicans dismissed complaints by Democrats that a new FBI probe into sexual assault allegations against him was rushed and incomplete.
Under rules approved last year, 50 votes are needed for a majority in the procedural vote, which will be followed by a debate on the nomination before a final, definitive confirmation vote.
If Kavanaugh’s nomination is approved on Friday, the final vote could come as early as Saturday, sealing a conservative majority on the nine-seat court for decades.
The Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the chamber and three of their members are thought to be undecided on President Donald Trump’s candidate.
Allegations that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both teenagers have added to protests against the nomination.
Kavanaugh, who has denied the allegations, appeared to be on the fast-track towards nomination prior to the accusation becoming public in September.
On Thursday, more than 300 people were arrested in Washington, DC, during a protest inside a Senate building.
Thousands of women marched on the US capital to oppose the nomination and show solidarity with Ford.
While demonstrators went door to door lobbying Senators, lawmakers took turns on Thursday to review a single copy of the FBI report on Kavanaugh in a secure basement room to avoid leaks.
Republicans have said that a week-long investigation, summed up in the FBI dossier, had turned up nothing to corroborate the sexual assault allegations against the 53-year-old Kavanaugh, who currently sits on a federal court in Washington.
However, Democrats claimed the probe was an incomplete vetting constrained by a White House determined to push through the lifetime appointment of Trump’s man.
In an unprecedented move on Thursday, Kavanaugh published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal to defend his impartiality after the New York Times said that more than 2,4000 law professors had signed a letter opposing the nomination on the grounds that the judge “did not display the impartiality and judicial temperament” required of a Supreme Court justice.
Kavanaugh conceded to criticism of his aggressive behaviour during the hearing, saying “I know that my tone was sharp and I said a few things I should not have said” but attributed this to being “forceful and passionate”.