As America elects its first woman president, the nation’s first woman to be elected attorney general of the United States has died.
Janet Reno, who served under President Bill Clinton for 8 years, passed away on Monday at her home in Miami-Dade County, Fla. She was 78.
Her sister, Margaret Hurchalla, said cause of death was complications of Parkinson’s disease, which was diagnosed in November 1995, while she was still in office.
Reno’s career as attorney general was highlighted by the deadly raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco, Texas by federal agents in 1993; and an explosive international child custody battle involving a young Cuban refugee in 2000.
Shortly after being sworn in by President Clinton as attorney general in 1993, Reno launched an investigation into the Branch Davidians religious cult amid reports that children we being abused. A long siege between leader David Koresh, cult members and the FBI resulted in about 75 people dying in the compound, as it was consumed by flames.
The FBI has always maintained the Branch Davidians started the fire inside the compound. However, new evidence in 1999 suggested that the FBI might have started the fire. About one-third of those killed were children.
In 2000, Reno had another defining moment when she ordered agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to step in and seize Elián González, the 6-year-old Cuban boy who was found floating on an inner tube off the coast of Florida after his mother and 10 others had drowned in a failed crossing from Cuba by small boat.
The child became a symbol of Cuban exiles. Relatives of the mother lived in Florida and refused to give him up. The boy’s father wanted to bring him back to Cuba. Reno, who sided with the father, spent several hours trying to negotiate the boy’s release. Finally, feds burst into the Miami home of Elián’s relatives and took Elián away at gunpoint. Congressional Republicans and many Cuban exiles were outraged.
Under Reno, the Justice Department initiated prosecutions in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, helping to lay the groundwork for the pursuit of terrorists in the 21st century.
She presided over the Justice Department in a time of economic growth, falling crime rates and mounting security threats to the nation by forces both foreign and domestic.
The Reno Justice Department also prosecuted spies like the C.I.A. mole Aldrich H. Ames; it filed an antitrust suit against Microsoft, a milestone in the new-technology era; and it sued the tobacco industry to reclaim federal health care dollars spent on treating illnesses caused by smoking.
Ms. Reno was a strong advocate of guaranteeing federal protection to women seeking abortions and safeguarding abortion clinics that were under threat.
After leaving Washington, Reno ran for Governor of Florida, but lost to Jeb Bush.
Reno was applauded for displaying integrity and a willingness to accept personal responsibility for outcomes of the many crisis faced by her department
“Outspoken, outrageous, absolutely indifferent to others’ opinions, Jane Reno was truly one of a kind,” said Paul Anderson, a former Miami Herald reporter, wrote Reno’s biography.