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‘Truly Historic’: Tiffany P. Cunningham Is Confirmed as First Black Judge for the Federal Circuit

Attorney Tiffany P. Cunningham made history earlier this week as the first Black judge in U.S. history for the Federal Circuit, a federal appeals court. 

According to a press release from Bloomberg Law, on Monday, July 19, the U.S. Senate confirmed Cunningham’s position with a Senate vote of 63-33. With the addition of Cunningham, the outlet reported that the 12-member court levels out evenly between men and women. The Detroit, Michigan, native will replace Judge Evan J. Wallach.

Tiffany P. Cunningham, nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the Federal Circuit, prepares for her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Tuesday, May 26, 2021. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“This is a truly historic confirmation—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,” Senator Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said in a statement. He continued, “I’m pleased my colleagues joined me in a bipartisan manner in support of Ms. Cunningham’s nomination.”

C-SPAN Producer Craig Caplan confirmed the news in a Twitter post, revealing that Cunningham is also “the third U.S. Circuit Court judge and eight federal judges overall to be confirmed by the Senate during the Biden Administration.” In a later post, Caplan noted that 14 Senate Republicans, including Marco Rubio of Florida, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, voted in favor of the 45-year-old and she is one of three Black women to be “confirmed to these Circuit Courts.” 

Cunningham’s court deals explicitly with appeals on patent law cases, and is the only federal appeals court never to have a Black person as a member. According to Reuters, patent cases comprise “over half of the court’s docket,” but the court “also has nationwide jurisdiction over fields including international trade, government contracts, and trademark law.” 

Plans to nominate Cunningham were initially made public in late March. As a longtime patent litigator, the lawyer was reportedly a standout choice. Her resume included previously being a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, which has represented companies such as Intel Corp, Microsoft Corp, and General Motors Co. In addition, she also has worked as a law clerk for Federal Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk. 

Cunningham is a graduate of both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Law School.

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