Dana Sabraw

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Dana Sabraw
Dana M. Sabraw.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California
Assumed office
September 26, 2003
Appointed byGeorge W. Bush
Preceded bySeat established by 116 Stat. 1758
Judge of the San Diego County Superior Court
In office
November 1998 – September 2003
Appointed byPete Wilson
Judge of the North County Municipal Court, San Diego County, California
In office
October 1995 – November 1998
Appointed byPete Wilson
Personal details
Dana Makoto Sabraw

(1958-07-03) July 3, 1958 (age 61)
San Rafael, California
Spouse(s)Summer A. Stephan
EducationAmerican River Junior College (A.A.)
San Diego State University (B.S.)
McGeorge School of Law (J.D.)

Dana Makoto Sabraw (born July 3, 1958) is a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. He was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003.

Early life and education[edit]

Sabraw is half-Japanese; his Japanese mother met his father in 1954 when he was a United States Army soldier stationed in Japan during the Korean War. They married in 1955. His father was a teacher of special-needs students and his mother taught English as a second language.[1]

Sabraw was born in San Rafael, California in 1958,[2] and grew up in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael, California.[3] He received an Associate of Arts degree from American River Junior College in 1978, a Bachelor of Science degree from San Diego State University in 1980, and a Juris Doctor from the McGeorge School of Law at University of the Pacific in 1985.[2]


His first job was working as a wrestling instructor, conditioning instructor, and later a lifeguard for the San Juan Unified School District in Carmichael, California From 1976 to 1977.[4]

From 1977 to 1982, he worked at many businesses and colleges which included Westmont and the University of the Pacific.[4]

Sabraw was in private practice for six years[1] at the Santa Barbara law firm of Price, Postel & Parma[3] before joining the San Diego office of the international law firm Baker McKenzie in 1992.[1][3]

State court service[edit]

Sabraw was a judge on the North County Municipal Court, County of San Diego, from 1995 to 1998. He was a judge on the Superior Court for the State of California, County of San Diego, from 1998 to 2003.[2] Governor Pete Wilson appointed Sabraw to both posts.[1]

Federal judicial service[edit]

Sabraw was nominated by President George W. Bush on May 1, 2003, to be a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, to a new seat created by 116 Stat. 1758.[2]

The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Sabraw "well qualified" for the judgeship.[5] Sabraw was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate in a 95-0 vote on September 25, 2003.[1] He received his commission the following day.[2]

Notable cases[edit]

In 2016 Sabraw presided over a case brought against the State of California by a group of anti-vaccine parents who challenged S.B. 277, a California law that required all schoolchildren in public and private schools to be fully vaccinated against a number of diseases.[6] Sabraw rejected the activists' claim that the law was a violation of the constitutional rights to free exercise of religion or to equal public education, writing that "the fundamental rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution do not overcome the State's interest in protecting a child's health" and that the Constitution "does not require the provision of a religious exemption to vaccination requirements, much less a personal belief exemption."[6] After Sabraw rejected the plaintiffs' application for an injunction, the group dropped the lawsuit.[7]

In February 2018, Sabraw was assigned a case in which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Donald Trump administration on behalf of a Congolese woman who had been separated from her 7-year-old daughter in November when she presented herself at the San Ysidro Port of Entry seeking asylum. The case later became a class-action suit challenging the administration's policy of separating families who cross the U.S.-Mexico border.[8][9] In June 2018, Sabraw denied the government's motion to dismiss the case, finding that plaintiffs alleged sufficient grounds to proceed with their claim that the policy violates plaintiffs' constitutional right to due process.[10] Later that month, Sabraw entered a nationwide injunction ordering an end to most family separations at the border and requiring the immediate reunification of all children separated from their family members under the policy.[11][12] He continued to oversee the process of family reunification, requiring regular reports from the administration. In July 2018, Sabraw suspended family deportations for one week, until family unifications could be completed.[13] In August 2018, Sabraw ruled that it is the government's burden to reunite separated migrant families.[14]

However, in January 2020, he ruled in support of the Trump administration's separation of 900 children from their parents on the grounds that the parents were unfit or dangerous, given doubts about paternity, criminal history, or having communicable diseases. He distinguished these cases from those where he had earlier ruled against the Trump administration because their purpose had been to deter immigration across the southern border altogether. In so ruling, he rejected the ACLU's claim that the administration had reverted to previous abusive family separations, although he did also grant the ACLU position that the government would have to administer DNA tests to remove paternity doubts, something the Trump administration had fought.[15]

In April 2018 he presided over the case of a U.S. Border Patrol agent who pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs across the border, sentencing him to 70 months in federal prison.[16]

Personal life[edit]

Sabraw lives in Scripps Ranch, San Diego.[1] He is married to Summer Stephan, a career prosecutor with the San Diego County District Attorney's office who was elected District Attorney in June 2018.[17] They have three children.[1] Sabraw's aunt, uncle and cousin are also judges, serving on the bench in Northern California.[1]


The San Diego Union-Tribune named Sabraw its 2018 "San Diego Person of the Year" for his order ending the Trump administration's family separation policy, stating that Sabraw's ruling "ended a shameful chapter in our country's history" and adding: "His honest, thoughtful oversight of a complex case shouldn't be forgotten."[18]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Marshall, Scott (October 6, 2003). "Vista judge takes seat in federal court". San Diego Union Tribune.
  2. ^ a b c d e Sabraw, Dana Makoto, History of the Federal Judiciary, Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ a b c Kristina Davis, Who is Dana Sabraw, the judge behind the family reunification case?, San Diego Union-Tribune (July 22, 2018).
  4. ^ a b Confirmation hearing on federal appointments : hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Eighth Congress, first session. pt.4 (2003)
  5. ^ Ratings of Article III Judicial Nominees: 108th Congress (last updated January 10, 2008).
  6. ^ a b Paul Sisson, Judge denies injunction against vaccine law, San Diego Union-Tribune (August 26, 2018).
  7. ^ Jane Meredith Adams, Parent group withdraws suit against school vaccination law, EdSource (September 1, 2016).
  8. ^ Srikrishnan, Maya (August 1, 2018). "A Reader's Guide to the Family Separation Case". Voice of San Diego. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  9. ^ Gerstein, Josh (June 19, 2018). "New lawsuit challenges Trump administration over family separation". Politico. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  10. ^ Stahl, Jeremy (June 6, 2018). "District Court Judge Denounces Forced Child Separation as "Brutal" and Clear Constitutional Violation". Slate. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  11. ^ Jarrett, Laura (June 27, 2018). "Federal judge orders reunification of parents and children, end to most family separations at border". CNN. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  12. ^ Ms. L. v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, 310 F.Supp.3d 1133 (S.D. Cal. 2018).
  13. ^ Marty Graham (July 16, 2018). "U.S. judge suspends deportations of reunited immigrant families". Reuters.
  14. ^ Pearle, Lauren (August 3, 2018). "Government's job to reunite migrant parents deported without kids, not ACLU: Judge". ABC News.
  15. ^ https://thehill.com/regulation/court-battles/478105-judge-rules-in-favor-of-administration-on-family-separations-at
  16. ^ Davis, Kristina (April 25, 2018). "Border Patrol agent who picked up drugs along fence for apparent traffickers gets prison". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
  17. ^ "Summer Stephan, San Diego County District Attorney". San Diego County District Attorney. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  18. ^ The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board (December 28, 2018). "Dana Sabraw: the 2018 San Diego person of the year". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 31 December 2018.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Seat established by 116 Stat. 1758
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California