Now that the crowds have left and the inauguration excitement has subsided, the real work is beginning. In his first week in the Oval Office, President Obama has spoken out on issues ranging from the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp to the economic recession.

But one topic that Obama must consider sooner rather than later is the United States Supreme Court, which had a brief moment in the limelight on Inauguration Day when Chief Justice John Roberts rather clumsily administered the presidential oath of office. At least one vacancy on the Court is likely to open up in the near future; Obama, a constitutional scholar himself, must seize the opportunity to create a lasting impact on the judiciary by nominating a young, liberal-minded judge with a strong track record for the post.

The first justice to retire will probably be Justice John Paul Stevens, the oldest member at age 88. Stevens has been a strong liberal voice on the Court since 1975 when he replaced Justice William Douglas, whom President Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated in 1939. It’s fitting that Obama, confronted by economic turmoil, will have the opportunity to fill the same seat.

Obama’s first appointment will be an indicator of his intentions for the direction of the highest court in the land. We hope and expect that it will be one that preserves the current balance of liberals and conservatives. We suggest that Obama look to a well-qualified woman with a liberal leaning – someone like Judge Vanessa Ruiz of the D.C. Court of Appeals. She represents much of what the Court demands: a great deal of intellectual capacity and curiosity, as well as a respect for the evolving meaning of the Constitution.

Judge Ruiz received her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1975 and later held an adjunct professorship there. She has been involved in both the public and private sectors: She worked for what is now the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia and served as president of the National Association of Women Judges. A Puerto Rican by birth, Ruiz would bring a different perspective to the high court, which was traditionally reserved for white males until relatively recently – in fact, she would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee.

Unlike President Bush’s failed nominee Harriet Miers, Ruiz is actually qualified for the job. Her sex is not her defining characteristic; it is an aspect that merely adds to her impressive résumé and makes her a more interesting candidate.

Of course, the seat is not yet vacant nor is Ruiz or any other candidate being considered publicly for the job. But when the issue comes to the forefront of the Obama administration’s agenda, we hope to see Ruiz or someone like her at the top of the list.

With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the only woman currently on the Court, Ruiz would contribute needed diversity. Considering her background, qualifications and progressive views, Judge Ruiz exemplifies the sort of future justice we would like to see climbing the steps of the Supreme Court.

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