Biden names gay judge to federal CA bench

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Friday July 29, 2022
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Judge Daniel Calabretta, second from left, would be the first LGBTQ judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. Photo: Courtesy screengrab
Judge Daniel Calabretta, second from left, would be the first LGBTQ judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. Photo: Courtesy screengrab

President Joe Biden has nominated a gay California state superior court judge to the federal bench. It follows criticism that the Biden administration has been slow to appoint LGBTQ federal judges.

Friday, July 29, Biden announced he had nominated Judge Daniel Calabretta to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. If confirmed, Calabretta would be the first openly LGBTQ judge to serve on the federal district court.

Calabretta had served as a law clerk for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens from 2004 to 2005. The year prior he had clerked for U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which includes California.

In late 2018 former California governor Jerry Brown named Calabretta, his deputy legal affairs secretary, to the Superior Court of Sacramento County. Calabretta, who graduated from the University of Chicago Law School in 2003, joined the state bench in early 2019.

He had served as deputy attorney general in the California Department of Justice from 2008 to 2013, during Brown's time as California attorney general then for two years under Kamala Harris, now Biden's vice president. Between 2005 and 2008 Calabretta was an associate at the California law firm Munger, Tolles and Olson LLP.

Born Daniel Joe Powell, he grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Princeton University in 2000. In 2014, Calabretta married Jonathan McClean Calabretta.

Daniel Calabretta was among nine judicial appointments that Biden announced Friday. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Rita F. Lin would be the second Asian American woman and first Chinese American woman seated on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, while Araceli Martinez-Olguin, a supervising attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, would be the second Latina to serve on the federal district court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will now take up the judges' nominations. In announcing them, the Biden administration called the jurists "extraordinarily qualified, experienced, and devoted to the rule of law and our Constitution."

California's two Democratic U.S. Senators - Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein — called for the trio of California judges to be confirmed in a statement they jointly released Friday.

"We applaud President Biden's nominations of Judge Daniel Calabretta, Judge Lin, and Araceli Martinez-Olguin to serve on California's district courts," stated Padilla and Feinstein. "Each has unique and extensive experience in the legal field that will serve California well on the bench. We urge our colleagues in the Senate to support their swift confirmation."

The White House's announcement also noted that the nominations "continue to fulfill" President Biden's "promise to ensure that the nation's courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country - both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds."

Yet in a report released in February, the LGBTQ law group Lambda Legal said that during his first year in office Biden "fell short on LGBTQ+ representation" with his appointments for the federal judiciary.

It reported there being only 14 active federal judges who openly identify as gay or lesbian, which is a mere 1.6% of the 870 Article III judgeships in the federal judiciary. It also noted only 20 openly gay or lesbian people, at the time of the report's issuance, had ever been nominated to the federal judiciary since the ratification of the Constitution.

"More disappointingly, there has never been an openly transgender, nonbinary, or bisexual nominee in the history of the federal judiciary," according to the report.

In April, Biden nominated Ana Reyes, a lesbian who is an attorney at the D.C-based law firm Williams & Connolly LLP, for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She would be the first Hispanic woman and the first out lesbian who would ever serve on the court, noted the Washington Blade LGBTQ newspaper.

This year also saw the confirmation of Biden nominee Alison Nathan, a lesbian former federal district court judge in New York, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Last November, the U.S. Senate confirmed Biden's first lesbian nominee to the 2nd Circuit: Beth Robinson of Vermont.

The 2nd Circuit includes Vermont, New York, and Connecticut. That confirmation marked the first time an openly LGBTQ woman had been appointed to a federal appeals circuit seat, as the Bay Area Reporter had noted.

"It is essential for the judiciary to reflect the communities that it serves. Not because it guarantees a particular outcome in a particular case, but because it helps to ensure that all who walk through the courthouse doors will be treated with dignity and view the court's decisions with legitimacy, because they will see themselves represented in the institution," stated Lambda Legal in its report. "This is particularly important for LGBTQ+ people, as there is overwhelming evidence of bias by the courts towards these communities."

Biden's latest round of federal judicial nominations is his 24th since being sworn into office last year. It marked his 11th slate of nominations this year and brings the number of his announced federal judicial nominees to 132.

"President Biden has spent decades committed to strengthening the federal bench, which is why he continues to move rapidly to fill judicial vacancies. And he has won confirmation of the most lower court judges for the first year of a presidency since the Kennedy Administration," noted the White House.

UPDATED 7/29/22 with the statement from Senators Padilla and Feinstein.

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