Skip to main site content.
This 1998 file photo shows then-U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno giving a press briefing in Washington, DC. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)


Janet Reno, 1st woman attorney general in U.S., dies at 78

November 7, 2016

Janet Reno, the first woman to serves as attorney general of the United States during the Clinton administration, has died. She was 78. Reno’s goddaughter Gabrielle D’Alemberte told The Associated Press that the cause of death was complications from Parkinson’s disease. She died early on Monday morning D’Alemberte said and had been surrounded by friends and family at her home in Miami during her last days.

Reno was one of 16 women to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1963. She’s famous for having once said she became a lawyer “because I didn’t want people to tell me what to do.” In 1993, Bill Clinton nominated her to be the first woman to head up the Justice Department. Reno, 54 at the time, had been the top prosecutor in Florida’s Dade County for 15 years when she got the nod from Clinton. She was Clinton’s third choice — his first two, both women, had withdrawn from the confirmation process because they had hired illegal immigrants as nannies. A month after her nomination, she was confirmed by a 98-0 vote in the Senate. “It’s an extraordinary experience, and I hope I do the women of America proud,” Reno said after the vote.

She went on to serve almost eight years as attorney general, one of the longest stints anyone has served in the post in U.S. history and was known for her involvement in two of the country’s biggest legal cases during the Clinton administration: the 1993 standoff between federal authorities and Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and the return to Cuba of Elian Gonzalez, a 5-year-old immigrant. Both sagas captivated the nation and Reno drew scrutiny for her decisions in each of the cases.

Reno was also famously portrayed on NBC’s Saturday Night Live by Will Ferrell in a recurring sketch called “Janet Reno’s Dance Party.” One popular installment of the sketch that still is talked about today featured Ferrell as Reno interviewing then-New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. On her final day in office as attorney general, Reno appeared as herself alongside Ferrell on an episode of SNL — a moment that won huge laughs from the studio audience. You can watch a grainy version of that appearance here. After Reno left the Justice Department, her days in politics weren’t over quite yet.

Read her full obituary at The Associated Press.