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Del. Judge Stark appointed to Federal Circuit

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Judge Leonard Stark has been confirmed by the Senate to the Federal Circuit. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CSPAN

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Delaware U.S. District Judge Leonard Stark was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday to a seat on the patent-focused U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, marking the highest-ranking Delawarean to earn a judgeship during the Biden administration.

Stark’s approval in a 61-35 vote came with increasingly rare bipartisan support for a judicial confirmation. Eight primarily moderate Republicans joined Democrats in approving the appointment, led by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who is the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property.

Unlike the 12 Circuit Court of Appeals across the nation, the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Circuit is the only appellate court that hears patent cases, which make up more than half of its docket. The Federal Circuit also hears appeals on trademark law, international trade, government contracts, federal employee benefits, veterans claims, and more.

As a U.S. Court of the District of Delaware judge, Stark already handled one of the busiest dockets of patent cases in the country. It was among the reasons that the American Bar Association rated him unanimously as “well qualified” to sit on the Federal Circuit, and he faced little opposition in a Dec. 1 confirmation hearing.

“Judge Stark is an exceptional jurist whose extensive background as a trial judge includes presiding over thousands of patent cases and several dozen patent trials. Judge Stark has also served on several federal appeals panels, making him well positioned from day one to take on the demanding work of a circuit judge,” U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

Stark is President Joe Biden’s second appointment to the Federal Circuit after Tiffany Cunningham was confirmed to the court in 2020, and the first Delawarean to serve on the influential business-focused court created in 1982. He becomes only the third Delawarean to serve in an active Circuit Court judgeship, along with Third Circuit judges Thomas Ambro and Kent Jordan, who were appointed by presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively.

Prior to graduating from Yale Law School, Stark received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware and studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He began his career at the Wilmington office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, the powerhouse No. 5 AmLaw firm.

In 2002, he became an assistant U.S. attorney in Wilmington, serving for five years until he was appointed a magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court of Delaware, handling first criminal appearances, bail hearings, and other administrative duties.

In 2010, President Barack Obama nominated Stark to the District bench, and he was confirmed by the Senate. Stark would serve as the district’s chief judge from 2014 until his nomination in 2021.

In joining the Federal Circuit, Stark replaces Judge Kathleen O’Malley, who announced her retirement last year. She gained a reputation for writing decidedly pro-patent opinions, according to IP Watchdog, which covers the patent industry.

Delaware Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper (both D-Del.), who introduced Stark at his Dec. 1 confirmation hearing, applauded the judge’s confirmation Wednesday.

“From his service to the American people as an Assistant U.S. Attorney to his 12 years on the Delaware District Court, Judge Stark has earned the respect and admiration of the legal community and Americans across the country,” Carper said in a statement. “I’m confident that his judicial experience — particularly in the complex legal arena of patent law — makes him a perfect fit for this federal judgeship. He represents not only the best of what Delaware has to offer, but the best of public service in our nation. Today, the First State is proud we get to share a public servant like Judge Stark with our entire country.”

“The broad bipartisan support for Judge Stark’s confirmation is a testament to his keen legal mind and outstanding character,” Coons added in a statement. “Judge Stark has shown dedication and integrity throughout his tenure on the federal bench in Delaware, and I am confident his principled judgment and judicial reasoning will serve the Federal Circuit well.”

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