Janet Reno, who during the Bill Clinton administration became the first woman to serve as U.S. attorney general, has died of complications from Parkinson’s disease. She was 78.
Reno died early Monday morning surrounded by family and friends, her niece Daphne Webb told NBC News.
Reno served nearly eight years as attorney general under President Clinton. Reno, a former Miami prosecutor, was often criticized for her blunt style. She often told the public and reporters, “The buck stops with me,” a line borrowed from President Harry S. Truman.
Reno found herself in the middle of several controversies during her tenure, including Whitewater, Filegate, bungling at the FBI laboratory, Monica Lewinsky and the “deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, where sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers perished,” NBC News reports.
In 1995, after noticing a trembling in her left hand, Reno sought medical attention and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. In typical Reno fashion, she made no fuss about her diagnosis, which she announced during a weekly news conference. She added that the ailment would not stop her from doing her job.
In one famous case she handled, in November 1999, Elizabeth Brotons Rodríguez and her 5-year-old son, Elian Gonzalez, left Cuba in search of a better life. Rodriguez drowned, but Elian survived and was placed with his mother’s family in the Little Havana section of Miami. The case caused national attention The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service fought to keep Elian in the country. His father wanted him returned to Cuba. A federal district court ruled that only his father could petition for asylum, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
In the spring of 2000, Reno authorized the seizure of 5-year-old Elian and had him returned to his father.
In 2002, after Reno left Washington, she unsuccessfully ran for Florida governor. That was Reno’s last attempt at a career in politics.
According to NBC News, Janet Wood Reno was the daughter of two newspaper reporters and the eldest of four siblings. She graduated from Cornell University with a degree in chemistry and later from Harvard Law School. Reno, who stood over 6 feet tall, was often teased for her height. During her tenure as attorney general, she was regularly mocked on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. Reno would later appear on the show.
She would later say that she became a lawyer “because I didn’t want people to tell me what to do,” NBC News reports.
Read more at NBC News.