Professor Hails Classmate’s Historic Confirmation

Kimberly Jenkins Robinson Says Ketanji Brown Jackson Brings ‘Unique Qualities’ to Supreme Court
Ketanji Brown Jackson and Kimberly Jenkins Robinson

Ketanji Brown Jackson, left, and UVA Law professor Kimberly Jenkins Robinson were roommates and journal colleagues at Harvard Law School. Contributed photo; photo by Dan Addison/University Communications

 
April 8, 2022

After the U.S. Senate voted Thursday afternoon to confirm judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, Kimberly Jenkins Robinson, a University of Virginia law professor, tried to call her friend, but Jackson’s voice mailbox was full. Robinson, who met Jackson when they were students at Harvard Law School, instead texted congratulations.

“I’m so happy for her,” said Robinson, speaking from Los Angeles. “She will really listen to the people and the voices in the cases and apply the law.”

Jackson will become the first Black woman to sit on the nation’s highest court, replacing Justice Stephen G. Breyer when he retires after the court’s term ends in early summer.

Robinson, who joined the UVA Law faculty in 2019, and Jackson, a federal appellate court judge in Washington, D.C., have remained friends and shared each other’s successes since those years at Harvard Law School. Robinson said she doesn’t recall how they met, but it was in the first year of classes when they decided to room together.

“She was a considerate roommate and a supportive friend,” Robinson said.

Kimberly Jenkins Robinson and Ketanji Brown JacksonUVA Law professor Kimberly Robinson and Ketanji Brown Jackson reunited at a Harvard Law School alumni event. Contributed photo

They both spent most of their time outside of classes during their second and third years, from 1994-96, working on the Harvard Law Review, with Jackson serving as supervising editor and Robinson as an articles editor. (They were joined on the law review by two other future UVA Law professors, Richard Schragger and David Law.) Robinson said they joked that they saw each other on campus working on the publication more than they did at home.

Even back then, Robinson believed Jackson was destined for a great career and could rise all the way to the Supreme Court, she said, a sentiment that grew as Jackson built an impressive legal career that led to becoming a judge.

Robinson described her friend as having a combination of “unique qualities” that make her “a woman of character and integrity.”

“She’s brilliant and humble, open, honest, and she has the determination and perseverance to succeed at anything she does,” Robinson said.

Over the past few weeks, Robinson has fielded numerous media calls asking about their time together in law school. Their longtime friendship speaks to Jackson’s fidelity, Robinson said. Although they didn’t live nearby as their careers progressed, they’d see each other for the occasional lunch when possible, and she visited Jackson with her family.

As they kept in touch over the years, Robinson said, she turned to Jackson on more than one occasion for support and advice, whether it was something like coping with an illness in the family or taking a new step professionally. Jackson was always helpful, she said, and happy for her when she got her UVA Law position.

Along with writing commentary on Jackson’s historic nomination, Robinson supported Jackson by attending the lengthy Senate confirmation hearing, sitting with Jackson’s husband, family and other friends. Watching Jackson’s composure answering questions during the grueling confirmation, Robinson was struck by her resolve and professionalism, she said.

Beyond seeing Jackson as a steadfast friend, Robinson saw the qualities that would serve Jackson well as a Supreme Court justice.

“She’ll be even-handed and impartial in applying the law,” Robinson said. “And yes, she will bring her lived experiences, but as a judge, she will continue to intentionally set aside bias and favoritism. She’s someone who’ll focus on the facts of the case before her and the relevant governing law.”

Robinson isn’t the only UVA Law professor who attended the hearings to support Jackson. Dean Risa Goluboff testified on her behalf at the Senate hearing, having known Jackson for almost 25 years through her marriage to Schragger.

Jackson’s appointment will broaden the court so that it reflects the rich diversity of our nation, Robinson said, adding that the appointment of a Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court is long overdue.

“She will be a justice for all seasons, for all people,” Robinson said.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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