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Janet Reno

Janet Reno
Janet Reno
Order 78th Attorney General
Term of Office March 11, 1993 -
January 20, 2001
Predecessor William Barr
Successor John Ashcroft
Date of Birth July 21, 1938
Place of Birth Miami, Florida
Political Party Democrat

Janet Reno (born July 21, 1938) was the 78th Attorney General of the United States (1993-2001), and was the first woman to hold that post. She was nominated by President Bill Clinton on February 11, 1993 and confirmed on March 11.



Reno's father, Henry Reno, immigrated to the United States from Denmark and for forty-three years was a police reporter for the Miami Herald. Jane Wood, Reno's mother, raised her children and then became an investigative reporter for the Miami News. Janet Reno has three younger siblings.

Reno attended public school in Dade County, Florida, where she was a debating champion at Coral Gables High School . In 1956 Reno enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she majored in chemistry, became president of the Women's Self Government Association , and earned her room and board.

In 1960 Reno enrolled at Harvard Law School, one of only sixteen women in a class of more than 500 students. She received her LL.B. from Harvard three years later. Despite her Harvard degree, she had difficulty obtaining work as a lawyer because she was a woman.

In 1971 Reno was named staff director of the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives. She helped revise the Florida court system. In 1973 she accepted a position with the Dade County State's Attorney's Office. She left the state's attorney's office in 1976 to become a partner in a private law firm.

In 1978, Reno was appointed State Attorney General for Dade County. She was elected to the Office of State Attorney in November 1978 and was returned to office by the voters four more times. She helped reform the juvenile justice system and pursued delinquent fathers for child support payments and established the Miami Drug Court .

In 1993 Reno was nominated and confirmed Attorney General under Bill Clinton, after previous nominee Zoe Baird had confirmation problems when it was revealed she had previously employed an undocumented immigrant as nanny. Reno remained Attorney General for all of Clinton's presidency, outlasting most other cabinet members.

During her term, Reno attracted more controversy than any of Clinton's other cabinet members. While Clinton could steer a middle ground between his Democratic supporters and the Republican Congress on economic issues, Reno's job was at the center of a variety of intractable cultural conflicts. This made her a lightning rod for criticism of the Clinton Administration from the right, who often perceived the federal government as a threat to their fundamental freedoms.

In 1995 Reno revealed that she has Parkinson's disease, an incurable degenerative illness that causes muscular stiffness and involuntary trembling.

Reno ran for Governor of Florida in 2002, but lost in the Democratic primary to Bill McBride. Voting problems arose in the election, and she did not concede defeat until a week later.

Priorities for Reno as Attorney General

  • Reduce crime and violence by incarcerating serious, repeat offenders and finding alternative forms of punishment for first time, non-violent offenders.
  • Focus on prevention and early intervention efforts to keep children away from gangs, drugs and violence and on the road to strong, healthy and self-sufficient lives.
  • Enforce civil rights laws to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans.
  • Ensure that the Department of Justice reflects a diverse government, making integrity, excellence and professionalism the hallmarks of the Department.

Controversies for Reno as Attorney General

  • Campaign against violence in the media.
  • The ban of marijuana use among Rastafarians (as one of their sacraments).
  • Abortion issues - Reno led civil and criminal lawsuits against anti-abortion protesters and activists in many states when the Administration perceived them as hindering access to abortion

Janet Reno in popular culture

Many comedians have made fun of Reno, characterizing her as aggressive and masculine. This is perhaps best exemplified by Will Ferrell’s tough-talking, easily excited impersonation of Reno on Saturday Night Live. Reno has been a good sport and even appeared with Ferrell on the final installment of the recurring sketch “Janet Reno’s Dance Party” in January 2001.


  • Much of the text above comes from the Department of Justice website at:
Last updated: 05-15-2005 21:43:00