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Black Judge Chosen for Only Appeals Court Never to Have One (3)

March 30, 2021, 11:55 AM; Updated: March 30, 2021, 4:43 PM

Tiffany P. Cunningham will become the first Black judge on the Federal Circuit, the only U.S. appeals court that has never had a Black jurist, if she is confirmed by the Senate.

President Joe Biden Tuesday announced his intent to nominate Cunningham to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit along with 10 others for seats on other courts, including two other Black women.

Cunningham is a partner at Perkins Coie LLP in Chicago, specializing in patent litigation. She previously worked at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and clerked for Federal Circuit Judge Timothy B. Dyk.

The Federal Circuit has jurisdiction over appeals in patent cases and other suits involving the government. It is the only federal appeals court that didn’t have any judicial vacancies during the Trump administration.

Appellate litigator Ruthanne Deutsch called Cunningham “a superb choice.” Deutsch, of Deutsch Hunt PLLC in Washington, also clerked for Dyk.

Cunningham “brings to the bench stellar credentials, decades of broad-ranging and relevant litigation experience, and much-needed diversity,” Deutsch said. “What a welcome addition to the Federal Circuit.”

Cunningham’s clients have included Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., Amazon.com Inc., BlackBerry Ltd., and General Motors Corp., according to Bloomberg Law litigation analytics.

At Kirkland, Cunningham was part of a team representing BlackBerry that convinced a federal judge to overturn a nearly $150 million jury verdict against the phone maker in a patent suit over smartphone security technology.

READ MORE: Federal Circuit Judges Seek First Black Colleague as Seat Opens

Cunningham graduated from Harvard Law School and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. That would make her one of a handful of judges on the Federal Circuit with a technical degree.

‘People Listen’

A. Benjamin Spencer, the dean of William & Mary Law School and Cunningham’s Harvard Law classmate, described Cunningham as level-headed, perceptive, and “fiercely intelligent.”

“When she speaks, people listen,” Spencer said. “And she always has something meaningful to say.”

Christopher Liro, a partner at Andrus Intellectual Property Law who worked with Cunningham for about a decade at Kirkland & Ellis, praised her legal skills.

“She had a thorough understanding of the law and also the intelligence to understand the facts of cases that were presented to her,” Liro said. “Both of those things will serve her well as a judge.”

Dmitry Karshtedt, a patent professor at the George Washington University School of Law, said the choice also adds some geographical diversity to the court.

“Because the Federal Circuit is a national court, it is a good thing for there to be judges on it who had their legal careers outside DC—just to have a nice mix of D.C. and non-D.C. folks,” he said.

Cunningham would fill the first seat on the Federal Circuit that has opened up in the last six years. Judge Evan J. Wallach will take senior status at the end of May.

(Updates story with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Perry Cooper in Washington at pcooper@bloomberglaw.com; Matthew Bultman in New York at mbultman@correspondent.bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloomberglaw.com; Keith Perine at kperine@bloomberglaw.com; Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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