Having filled two vacancies on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, Biden is now seeking to fill the last with state judge Daniel Calabretta, who would be, if confirmed, the first LGBTQ judge on the Eastern District’s bench.
Born Daniel Joe Powell, Calabretta received a B.A. from Princeton University in 2000 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 2003. He then clerked for Judge William Fletcher on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. His class on the Supreme Court that session included future federal judges Julius Richardson (Rehnquist) and Martha Pacold (Thomas). After his clerkships, Calabretta joined Munger, Tolles & Olson as an associate. In 2008, Calabretta joined the California Attorney General’s Office under Jerry Brown and then joined Brown’s gubernatorial staff in 2013.
In 2018, Brown named Calabretta to the Sacramento County Superior Court, where he has served since.
History of the Seat
Calabretta has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, to a seat vacated on April 27, 2022 by Judge John Mendez.
Calabretta started his legal career as a law clerk on the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court but then spent three years at Munger Tolles and Olson, a firm that has produced numerous federal judges, including Ninth Circuit Judges Paul Watford, John Owens, Michelle Freidland, Dan Collins, and Gabriel Sanchez, as well as Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Calabretta subsequently spent five years at the California Attorney General’s Office. During that time, Calabretta represented the Attorney General’s office in the suit challenging California’s ban on same sex marriage. See Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 630 F.3d 909 (9th Cir. 2011). He also represented the state in a lawsuit regarding the funding and construction of a state prison hospital. See Rich Saskal, Receiver Offers California Break In Prison Health Care Lawsuit, The Bond Buyer, Oct. 7, 2008. Calabretta also argued before the Ninth Circuit in this role, defending California’s practice of collecting DNA samples from those facing felony charges. See Paul Elias, Calif. AG Defends DNA Samples from Felony Arrestees, A.P. State & Local Wire, July 13, 2010.
Finally, Calabretta spent five years working for Governor Jerry Brown as deputy legal affairs secretary before his appointment to the bench.
Since 2018, Calabretta has served as a Superior Court judge in Sacramento County. In this role, she presides over civil, criminal, and domestic cases. Calabretta currently serves as presiding judge on the Juvenile Court.
Writings and Statements
While at Munger, Calabretta co-authored a regular column with fellow Munger lawyers and Supreme Court clerks Friedland (O’Connor), Jeff Bleich (Rehnquist), and Aimee Feinberg (Breyer) discussing the Supreme Court. For example, one column from 2007 discusses the lack of cameras at the Supreme Court, suggesting changes that the Court can take to be more accessible such as releasing oral argument recordings on the same day of the argument (the Supreme Court currently releases transcripts the same day and audio at the end of the week). See Jeff Bleich, Michelle Freidland, Aimee Feinberg, and Daniel Powell, Supreme Court Watch: A Court Without Cameras, 33 San Francisco Att’y 52 (Winter 2007).
In another column, the foursome discuss the jurisprudence of Justice John Paul Stevens, describing him as “independent and hard to categorize politically.” See Jeff Bleich, Michelle Freidland, Aimee Feinberg, and Daniel Powell, Supreme Court Watch: John Paul Stevens – An Independent Voice, 33 San Francisco Att’y 44 (Spring 2007).
In a notable column, the authors discuss Chief Justice Roberts’ commitment to precedent, noting: “In a series of high-profile decisions this term, the Court expressed continued respect for precedents while effectively overruling them or limiting them to their narrow facts.” Jeff Bleich, Michelle Freidland, Aimee Feinberg, and Daniel Powell, Supreme Court Watch: Stealth Overrulings – Overturning Precedent Without Saying So, 33 San Francisco Att’y 43 (Fall 2007). The column goes on to discuss a number of rulings that go against prior precedent, without expressly overruling them, including the Gonzales v. Carhart decision that upheld a ban on “partial-birth abortion” seven years after the Court overruled such a ban in Stenberg v. Carhart.
The Eastern District of California has consistently been one of the most overworked courts in the country, and one desperately in need of new judges. As such, Calabretta’s nomination is likely welcome news to the court’s judges. Furthermore, Calabretta brings to the job both lawyerly and judicial experience and would likely be deemed to be well qualified for the bench.
However, Calabretta’s biggest enemy in his confirmation this Congress is time. As he is on the agenda for a Judiciary hearing this week, he should be able to be confirmed before the end of the year. If he is not, his fate depends on the composition of the new Senate.