5 Things To Know About One Of The Most Powerful Women That Ever Lived

Janet Reno, the first female attorney general, died at the age of 78.

Janet Reno, the first woman to ever serve as attorney general, lost a battle to Parkinson's disease at the age of 78  on Nov. 7 2016.

Reno served as attorney general for eight years and made a reputation for herself by being independent of political influence. Throughout her career, she made it clear that media storylines, what Americans wanted and political necessity would never influence her work or prosecution tactics as attorney general. That attitude made her a mutual enemy of both the left and right at different times, but earned her a lot of respect for how she did her job.

Revered and admired by her supporters for rare levels of transparency and integrity, Reno was involved in several high-stakes legal cases throughout the 1990s. 

"She was a very powerful force for lawfulness,"  Walter E. Dellinger III, a Duke University law professor, told 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."

Here are five things to know about the late Janet Reno:


1. She was the longest serving attorney general ever.

Despite being Bill Clinton's third choice, Reno ended up serving for his entire presidency and became the longest serving Attorney General ever. She had previously worked as a prosecutor for 15 years in Miami's Dade County, where her constituents put her back in office five times. By all measures, the Ivy League graduate won over the people she worked for throughout her career. And when she didn't, it was usually because she was prosecuting them.

2. She was accountable.

The biggest blemish on Reno's record, and the biggest controversy, came when she ordered a raid on the Branch Davidians complex in Waco, Texas. The Branch Davidians were a religious sect whose standoff with police and federal agents began before Reno took office. U.S. agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had raided the compound with a search warrant, but the raid ended in a gun battle that killed four agents. 

Fifty-one days later, after a nearly two-month-long standoff, Reno ordered a second raid to be executed with tear gas. During the raid, a fire broke out and 80 people died. 

Afterwards, Reno took full responsibility: "I made the decision. I'm accountable," she famously told TV cameras. "The buck stops with me."

3. Fighting terrorism.

As Attorney General, one of Reno's biggest wins came when she prosecuted Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who helped lead the 1993 bombings of the World Trade Center. 

In retrospect, Reno's prosecution tactics during that time were described as patient and well-thought out. But at the time, she was under tremendous pressure to push the case through as quickly as possible, and instead resisted that temptation to build the strongest case possible. 

Reno also famously oversaw the investigations that eventually convicted Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols for their roles in the Oklahoma City bombings. 

"Speak out against the hatred, the bigotry and the violence in this land," she said. "Most haters are cowards. When confronted, they back down. When we remain silent, they flourish."

4. Advocating for children.

Reno received praise from the president of the Children's Defense Fund for being aggressive when going after child abusers and people involved in childhood support cases early on in her career.

In Miami-Dade County, she put together programs that forced dads to pay their child support. When realizing the scope of sexual abuse of children, she created a sexual battery unit that was described by many as the first of its kind for how well it treated its patients and victims. Throughout her career, Reno spoke about poverty, poor schools and their link to crime.

5. Her battle with Parkinson's.

Reno was cheered by many for how she handled her diagnoses of Parkinson's, which came two years into her term as Attorney General.

Instead of hiding her disease, Reno announced it in Washington D.C. by extending forward a steady hand and declaring that the disease — with the help of medication — would not impair her ability to do her job. Reno continued to give public talks as the disease progressed and her tremors became worse, speaking openly about the battle ahead of her. Her approach to Parkinson's gave way to a 1999 Miami Herald profile that declared her a "poster child" for Parkinson's. 


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