MIAMI, Nov. 7 (UPI) — Janet Reno, the United States’ first female attorney general, died Monday, her goddaughter Gabrielle D’Alemberte confirmed. She was 78.
Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson ‘s disease in 1995 and lived her final days in Florida.
She was nominated to the top Justice Department post by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and brought an intense independence to the position, as well as a demand that department employees work outside the sway of external opinion. Her admirers believed she brought an increased level of integrity to the position, as well as an insistence on legal precision in the courtroom.
Under her order, FBI agents raided the Waco, Texas, compound of the branch Davidian religious sect, leading to the deaths of about 80 people; she ordered Elian Gonzales, 6, to be taken from his relatives in Miami and returned to Cuba, an action which angered Florida’s Cuban-American community, and investigated Clinton’s sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, which led to his impeachment.
Reno left the office in 2001.
She was criticized by business leaders for an ongoing investigation of alleged anti-competitive practices by Microsoft, and by civil libertarians for her handling of the espionage case of Wen Ho Lee, who was held for nine months in solitary confinement for allegedly stealing U.S. nuclear secrets for China before he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
But Reno was also praised by many for her commitment to civil rights, her efforts to regulate television violence, and aggressive prosecution of child support and child abuse cases.
At 6 feet 2 inches tall, the self-described “awkward old maid” was a visible member of the Clinton administration, and parodied her own image on an episode of the satirical television program Saturday Night Live.
After she left the Department of Justice in 2001, she launched a campaign for Florida governor the following year, lost in a primary election, and chose to leave the public sphere. After discovering she had Parkinson’s disease, she continued to work as attorney general and became a role model for others managing the illness.