Janet Reno, who rose from humble beginnings to become the first female attorney general of the United States, has died. She was 78, The New York times reported.
According to her sister, Margaret Hurchalla, Reno died at her home in Miami-Dade County, Fla., from complications of Parkinson’s disease. The disease was diagnosed in November 1995, while she was still in office.
Reno, a graduate of Harvard Law School, became attorney general under President Bill Clinton in 1993. Ms. Reno’s tenure as attorney general was bracketed by two explosive events: a deadly federal raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco, Tex., in 1993, and the seizing in 2000 by federal agents of Elián González, a young Cuban refugee who was at the center of an international custody battle and a political tug of war.
Ms. Reno was applauded for a straightforward integrity and a willingness to accept responsibility, but she was also fiercely criticized. Republicans accused her of protecting President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore when, in 1997, she refused to allow an independent counsel to investigate allegations of fund-raising improprieties in the White House.
But Reno’s career wasn’t only defined by scandal. The longest serving attorney general of the 20th century, she was a staunch advocate for women’s rights and pushed Congress to pass stronger laws protecting abortion seekers and providers.
“I think we should do everything we can under federal law to protect a woman’s right to choose from physical restraints that people would try to place on it,” Reno told CNN at the beginning of her DOJ tenure.
She also oversaw the capture and conviction of some of America’s most notorious criminals, including Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh, the man behind the Oklahoma City bombing.
Long after she left Washington, Reno continued to speak on issues of criminal justice. She was also on the board of directors of the Innocence Project, a reform group that works to exonerate wrongly-convicted prisoners.
Reno was known for her unflinching earnestness, particularly in the fallout of the Waco incident, when she declared that “the buck stops with me.”
H/T: The New York Times.