Senate confirms Perkins Coie's Tiffany Cunningham to Federal Circuit

The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit is seen in Washington, D.C.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Experienced patent litigator is appeals court's first Black judge
  • Cunningham garnered bipartisan support, is popular among patent attorneys

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate confirmed Perkins Coie patent litigator Tiffany Cunningham to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Monday by a 63-33 vote, making her the first Black judge in the patent-focused court's history.

The Federal Circuit is the only federal appeals court to have never had a Black judge. Cunningham's appointment also creates an even six-to-six split between male and female judges on the bench.

"Tiffany is a superb and accomplished lawyer who is highly respected and regarded within and outside Perkins Coie," Bill Malley, Perkins Coie's firmwide managing partner, said in a firm press release congratulating Cunningham. "We greatly appreciate all of Tiffany's leadership and many contributions to the firm and our clients and wish her well on the next exciting chapter of her career."

Cunningham herself didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

President Joe Biden announced his intent to nominate Cunningham on March 30. An experienced patent litigator, Cunningham was a popular choice among patent attorneys and received bipartisan support from the Senate's Judiciary Committee, although she received six "no" votes from Republicans when the committee advanced her nomination in June and 33 in Monday's final confirmation vote.

Every Democratic senator present voted to confirm Cunningham, and Republican senators voting in her favor included Marco Rubio of Florida, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina.

The Federal Circuit is the only appellate court that hears patent cases. They make up over half of the court's docket, but it also has nationwide jurisdiction over fields including international trade, government contracts, and trademark law.

Cunningham has been a partner at Perkins Coie in Chicago since 2014. She was previously a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, and has represented companies including Intel Corp, Microsoft Corp, and General Motors Co during her career. Cunningham also clerked for Federal Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk, and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Law School.

During a May hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Cunningham called the Federal Circuit seat her "dream job."

"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," Cunningham said. "And I saw a court that had fine, fine jurists, but was very homogeneous."

"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.

Cunningham hasn't revealed much about her stances on specific patent-related issues, but said at the hearing that as a judge, she would make sure that she "gave every party a chance to be heard," and would "carefully study the arguments and faithfully apply the law to the facts of the case."

Cunningham will replace U.S. Circuit Judge Evan Wallach, who took senior status May 31. Wallach's semi-retirement created the court's first vacancy in six years.

(This story has been updated with comment from Perkins Coie.)

Read more:

Biden's Federal Circuit nominee brings patent expertise, diversity

No roadblocks for Cunningham’s historic Fed. Circ. nomination at Senate hearing

IN BRIEF: Senate Judiciary advances Cunningham’s Fed. Circ. nomination

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets, for Reuters Legal. He has previously written for Bloomberg Law and Thomson Reuters Practical Law and practiced as an attorney. Contact: 12029385713