A former colleague of President Barack Obama at a civil rights firm in Chicago, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cummings has been nominated for a federal judgeship in Illinois.
Cummings received a Bachelor of Arts with High Honors from Michigan State University in 1984 and a J.D. cum laude from Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in 1987. Cummings then clerked for Judge Ann Claire Williams on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (Williams would later be elevated to the Seventh Circuit).
Subsequently, Cummings joined the Chicago based civil rights firm Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C., where President Obama served as an associate from 1993 to 1996 and as of counsel from 1996 to his senate election in 2004. Cummings served as co-managing partner of the firm until his appointment as magistrate judge in 2019.
History of the Seat
Cummings has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. This seat opened by operation of law on December 5, 2022, when Judge Robert Dow was appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts as counselor to the chief justice.
Like fellow Northern District nominees Nancy Maldonado, Lindsay Jenkins, and LaShonda Hunt, Cummings was recommended for the federal bench by Illinois senators in December 2021.
Cummings has spent virtually his entire career before joining the bench in civil rights work at Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C. He primarily worked in employment discrimination cases, most notably securing a $630,000 settlement to a class of black workers with Area Erectors, Inc., who alleged termination based on race. See Area Erectors, Inc. to Pay $630,000 to Class of Black Workers in Race Discrimination Lawsuit, Targeted News Service, May 29, 2009.
Cummings has also served as a civil defense attorney, defending a beer distribution business against a discrimination suit brought by white contract drivers, who argued that they were fired because the owner came under pressure from the black community to hire more black drivers. See Baker v. Elmwood Distributing Inc., 940 F.2d 1013 (7th Cir. 1991). The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit, finding that, under Supreme Court precedent, discriminatory discharge is not actionable under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981, the suit they sued under. See id. at 1017.
Outside the employment context, Cummings represented plaintiffs in a suit alleging that Chicago’s aldermanic districts discriminated against the voting rights of Hispanics. See Political Action Conference v. Daley, 976 F.2d 335 (7th Cir. 1992). The suit was dismissed by Judge Judge James Moran and the Seventh Circuit affirmed. See id. Alongside Obama, Cummings also represented the voter registration organization ACORN in suing the State of Illinois in seeking to have it comply with the National Registration Act of 1993, which the Seventh Circuit ended up ruling unconstitutionally infringes upon state prerogatives. See ACORN v. Edgar, 56 F.3d 791 (7th Cir. 1995).
Cummings has also been a defendant, being sued by an ex-partner who alleged Miner, Barnhill & Garland failed to pay her post-departure compensation to which she was entitled. See Willenson v. Miner, Barnhill & Garland P.C., 998 N.E.2d 984 (Ill. App. 3d 2011). The suit ended with judgment in favor of the firm defendants.
Cummings has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since his appointment in 2019. In this role, he presides over arraignments, bail hearings, and non-dispositive motions. He also handles civil cases by consent of the parties.
Among his rulings as U.S. Magistrate Judge, Cummings ruled that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker would not be required to sit for a deposition as part of a discrimination case against his 2018 campaign. See Pritzker Won’t Have to Sit for Deposition, The Capitol Fax Blog, Feb. 25, 2020. Cummings also ordered the pretrial release of Jim Bob Elliott, an Aurora based member of the far right group the Proud Boys, who was arrested for his participation of the January 6th Capitol breach. See Jon Seidel and Tom Schuba, Aurora Man Charged in ⅙ Capitol riot Riot: Up to a 20-year Prison Term Possible if Aurora Man is Convicted, Chicago Daily Herald, Dec. 22, 2021.
Notably, Cummings recommended that Kroger receive an injunction barring Grubhub from using its new logo, which Kroger alleged was similar to the logo of its brand HomeChef. See Celeste Bott, Ill. Judge Recommends Injunction in Kroger, Grubhub TM Row, Law360, Apr. 12, 2022. U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle declined the recommendation, finding that the plaintiffs had not established a likelihood of success on the merits. See Jasmin Jackson, Kroger Loses Bid to Block Grubhub from Using Logo, Law360, May 26, 2022.
Cummings has frequently donated to Democrats over the course of his career, including to President Barack Obama and Sen. Tammy Duckworth.
A litigator with three decades of experience and a sitting magistrate judge, Cummings can claim the experience and the knowledge to become a successful trial judge. While he is sure to draw opposition for his work as a civil rights litigator, Cummings is also likely to, with the support of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin, sail to confirmation over such opposition.