IP Law Daily Tiffany Cunningham confirmed as first African-American Federal Circuit judge
Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Tiffany Cunningham confirmed as first African-American Federal Circuit judge

By Jonathan Anderson

By a vote of 63-33, the U.S. Senate confirmed Cunningham to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, making her the first African-American to serve on the court.

Shortly after Tiffany P. Cunningham began clerking for Federal Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk, she had an experience that would change the trajectory of her career.

"I recall when I was fortunate enough to clerk for the court in 2001 and 2002, one of the first days walking around and seeing the pictures of the judges on the walls, I saw a court that had fine, fine jurists, but was very homogeneous," Cunningham told the Senate Judiciary Committee in May.

"All 12 judges on the court were white. Just two were women.

"At that point in time, I kind of put it in my mental vision board that I hope that one day I could be a judge at that court," Cunningham said.

Two decades later, that day has arrived.

Late Monday, the U.S. Senate voted 63-33 to confirm Cunningham to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The confirmation makes Cunningham the first African-American judge to serve on the Federal Circuit since it was established in 1982, and also creates an even gender split among judges on the court.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a written statement that he was pleased Cunningham garnered a bipartisan confirmation vote. "This is a truly historic confirmation," Durbin said. "Ms. Cunningham will serve as the first Black judge on the Federal Circuit. She will not only bring much-needed diversity to the bench, but she will bring impeccable credentials as well."

Cunningham has been a partner at Perkins Coie LLP in Chicago since 2014. She is a member of the firm’s Patent Litigation practice and serves on its 17-member Executive Committee. She provides trial and appellate counsel for large multinational companies, as well as small enterprises and individuals, in complex patent and trade secret disputes. Cunningham has litigated patent and trade secret matters relating to healthcare, pharmaceuticals (including ANDA litigation), and computer and smartphone technology, among other industries. Her clients have included Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., and General Motors Co.

Cunningham is a registered patent attorney before the USPTO. From 2002 to 2014, she worked in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP as an associate until she was made a partner in 2007. Cunningham began her legal career as a law clerk to Federal Circuit Judge Timothy B. Dyk from 2001 to 2002. She received her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2001 and an S.B. in Chemical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998.

President Joe Biden announced plans to nominate Cunningham on March 30. The Senate Judiciary Committee on June 16 voted 16-6 to advance the nomination, and a cloture vote was held in the Senate last week.

During her confirmation hearing in May before the Judiciary Committee, Cunningham said that if she were confirmed, she would give "every party a chance to be heard and carefully study the arguments and faithfully apply the law to the facts of a case."

The Federal Circuit vacancy was created when Circuit Judge Evan Wallach retired from active service and assumed senior status on May 31. Judge Wallach has served on the Federal Circuit since November 18, 2011. Prior to his appointment, Judge Wallach served for 16 years as a judge of the U.S. Court of International Trade.

MainStory: TopStory Patent FedCirNews GCNNews

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