HOUSTON – Njeri Mathis Rutledge, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, says she didn’t think she would see a Black woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in her lifetime.
Now, she’s celebrating the fact that she believes her Harvard Law school classmate, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, will be that first Black woman justice, if confirmed.
Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for Judge Jackson’s nomination Monday in Washington, D.C. and Rutledge snagged a coveted ticket to sit in the gallery as her classmate made her opening statement.
“I remember Judge Jackson in class as being truly, truly brilliant,” Rutledge said. “She was very intense. I studied hard, she studied at a different level.”
The two lived in the same dormitory and were active in the Harvard Black Law Students’ Association.
She said Jackson wasn’t a “cut-throat” law student, that she was always rooting for everyone to succeed.
“I remember in civil procedure class, we were going to have a final exam and she stopped me in the lobby and said, ‘Njeri, take extra pencils because this is going to be a really long final’, she was just good people,” Rutledge said.
Houston native Shannon Buggs was an undergrad with Jackson at Harvard College.
“Determined, friendly, empathetic. A true advocate for best in humanity,” Buggs said of Jackson.
For Buggs, Judge Jackson’s historic nomination does not come as a surprise.
“Ketanji was always someone who from beginning you knew would be doing great things, not just destined to do great things but has done the hard work in order to do great things,” Buggs said.
Judge Jackson mentioned and thanked her numerous “boosters” in her opening statement Monday. Supporters who will have her back as the hearings take a decidedly more political tone over the next few days, experts say.
“They have been very predictable so far. All the Democratic Senators have praised her background, experience and work ethic and all the Republican Senators have talked about whether she is a strict constructionist,” said former U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa Gilmore.
Gilmore retired in January and made history herself as the youngest person serving on the federal bench when she was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994.
Gilmore, who will be in the gallery for the hearings this week, recalled her own confirmation process and says Jackson has likely been very well prepared for the questions to come.
“Tomorrow and the next day Senators will dig deeply into her record believe, there will be substantive questions asked and they deserve substantive answers to those questions. There will also be questions she will not be able to answer, like how she would rule on certain cases,” she said.
At Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, students, faculty and leadership watched the hearings aware of the history being made and the legacy of their school’s namesake, the first Black person to ever serve on the Supreme Court.
“I am truly inspired of course, as a Black person and a Black woman,” said Brittany Goddard.
The confirmation hearings continue Tuesday through Thursday. NBC News will provide coverage on air and you can stream the proceedings on click2houston.com.