Janet Reno, the first female U.S. attorney general, died early Monday at the age of 78. Her goddaughter, Gabrielle D'Alemberte, reportedly said that Reno died of complications from Parkinson's disease.
D'Alemberte said Reno spent her final days at home in Miami surrounded by family and friends, according to the Associated Press (AP).
Reno, a former Miami prosecutor, served nearly eight years as attorney general under President Bill Clinton. She was Bill Clinton’s third pick for attorney general after corporate lawyer Zoe Baird and New York federal Judge Kimba Wood. His first two picks withdrew after rumors surfaced they hired illegal immigrants as nannies.
While nominating Reno, Bill Clinton said she kept her phone number listed, something that is an unusual risk for a prosecutor.
“She has lived the kind of life in real contact with the toughest problems of this country that I think will serve her very well as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer,” Clinton said in 1993.
Over the years of her service as attorney general, Reno was surrounded with several criticisms as well as praises. She faced criticism over the FBI siege on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, where sect leader David Koresh and some 80 others died.
After Waco, Reno found herself in several other controversies and scandals that marked the Clinton administration, including Whitewater, Filegate, bungling at the FBI laboratory, Monica Lewinsky, alleged Chinese nuclear spying and questionable campaign financing in the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election.
She also received praise from many quarters, including from Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund and a friend of Hillary Clinton, for her aggressive prosecution of child abusers and child support cases. Her supporters believed she was a symbol of heightened level of integrity and professionalism.
“She was a very powerful force for lawfulness,” Walter Dellinger III, a Duke University law professor who served as solicitor general during Reno’s tenure, said, according to the Washington Post. “She was always challenging to make sure there was a sound legal basis for what people were doing. And she was adamant about separating the department from politics.”
Reno was born in Miami on July 21, 1938. Her father, Henry, worked as a police reporter for the Miami Herald for more than 40 years. Her mother, the former Jane Wood, was an investigative reporter for the now defunct Miami News. She completed her primary schooling in Miami-Dade County, Florida. In 1956, she enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she majored in chemistry. After graduating from Cornell University, Reno studied at Harvard Law School, graduating in 1963.
After her graduation, Reno worked as an attorney for two Miami law firms from 1963 to 1971. She was named staff director of the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives in 1971 and later accepted a position with the Dade County State Attorney's Office. She left the state attorney's office in 1976 to become a partner in a private law firm.