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

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Tiffany Cunningham

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  • Cunningham would be patent-focused court's first Black judge
  • Perkins Coie litigator, former Fed Cir clerk popular choice among patent attorneys

(Reuters) - Perkins Coie patent litigator Tiffany Cunningham moved one step closer towards becoming the first Black judge for the patent-focused U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, after the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary advanced her nomination on Thursday by a 16-6 vote.

Cunningham is a popular choice for the bench among patent lawyers and has been a partner at Perkins Coie in Chicago since 2014.

The Federal Circuit is the only federal appeals court to have never had a Black judge. If Cunningham is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, her appointment would also create an even split between male and female Federal Circuit judges.

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The Federal Circuit has sole jurisdiction over patent appeals. Patent cases make up over half of the court's docket, but it also has nationwide jurisdiction over other fields including international trade and government contracts, and trademark law.

The committee's Democratic senators all voted to advance Cunningham's nomination, as did Republicans Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah.

Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee opposed.

Cunningham was previously a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, and clerked for Federal Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk.

She called the Federal Circuit seat her "dream job" during a May Senate Judiciary hearing.

Read more:

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Blake Brittain reports on intellectual property law, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets. Reach him at