Janet Reno on Civil Rights
Former Attorney General; Democratic Challenger FL Governor
Infrastructure protection no threat to civil rights
The National Infrastructure Protection Center and the FBI will work with our lawyers. We have recruited lawyers who have the technical information and legal expertise to ensure that what we do complies with the Constitution, complies with privacy rights.
And we believe firmly that we can continue to meet our obligations in law enforcement in this era of new technology while at the same time complying with the Constitution in every way.
Source: Press Briefing on Terrorism, Washington DC (Clinton Cabinet)
, Jan 22, 1999
Emphasized aggressive civil rights enforcement
Reno’s concerns ranged from commitments to aggressive civil rights enforcement in order to promote diversity and economic equity to the elimination of discrimination based on sexual preferences.
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. (Clinton Cabinet)
, Jan 1, 1999
Civil rights must be aggressively protected by government
Q: Your hopes for White House Conference on Hate Crimes?
A: A clear understanding of how the federal government can work with local officials to focus on hate crimes. It is my hope that we can come out of the conference with every community
dedicated to building an effective effort to deal with hate crimes. We’re also working with the Department of Education to develop a curriculum for the schools that deals with hate crime.
Source: NEA Today: Online Interview (Clinton Cabinet)
, Jan 1, 1998
“Presumption of disclosure” of all federal information
Reno flushed out secretive federal bureaucrats by rescinding a Reagan-era rule that encouraged agencies to withhold records rather than open them to the public.
Henceforth, Reno had ordained, a “presumption of disclosure” would exist in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, with exceptions only for materials involving national security.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.313
, Jan 1, 1994
Dropped homosexuality as grounds for denying FBI employment
One legacy [of J. Edgar Hoover’s as FBI director], an outright ban on homosexuals as agents, was supposedly dropped in 1979, but Reno confronted a lingering institutional bias. FBI policy for screening permitted homosexuality to be a factor in hiring,
retaining, or promoting. Reno’s change in policy came as a trial in a lawsuit opened in 1993. She announced that sexual orientation would not be given special scrutiny during security checks at the FBI or anywhere in the Justice Department.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.251-252
, Dec 1, 1993
Limit TV violence by voluntary or regulatory means
[In Senate testimony on TV violence, Reno said], “I’m not condemning documentaries which teach us the lessons of war or sporting events that help society channel its competitive and aggressive impulses. Violence has always been a part of our life, our
history, and our culture, and TV programming in a free society should not pretend that it’s otherwise. But violence has become the salt & pepper of our TV diet.” She complained that too many shows show “somebody killed and nobody mourning. [they should]
show the agony it conveys.“
Network executives exploded. Reno didn’t threaten government regulation [at first]; rather, she urged her audience to complain to corporations that advertised on shows that contained violence. Reno [threatened censorship]
because she felt she’d been misled during a meeting with entertainment industry executives. Though they were conciliatory, promising cooperation in crafting reforms, she later learned that the same rhetoric in years past had produced few, if any, changes
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.266-267
, Oct 20, 1993
Supported Lani Guinier’s call for quotas
Lani Guinier [was selected by Clinton & Reno] to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. A pair of conservative columnists seized on excerpts of Guinier’s writings and labeled her a “Quota Queen.” Their selectively focused attack so
radicalized her views--she had specifically rejected the use of quotas-that Guinier complained, “I was made to embody America’s worst fears on race.” President Clinton said he found one of her articles “antidemocratic” and withdrew her nomination.
Reno had recommended that Clinton stand behind Guinier and was disturbed by his retreat. Unlike the president, she had read the controversial articles long before the nomination and had decided she liked Guinier’s thought-provoking style.
In Reno’s view, it was just what someone in academia should do: think hard and long about ways the law could be changed to improve the workings of the real world.
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.231-232
, Jun 3, 1993
Make civil rights & equal opportunity top priority
[In her speech at Clinton’s announcement of her candidacy for Attorney General, Reno said] she hoped “to end racial, ethnic, and gender discrimination and disharmony in America by enforcing the laws to ensure equal opportunity for all Americans,
and by restoring civil rights enforcement as one of the top priorities of the department.”
[In her opening statement at her Senate confirmation hearings as Attorney General, Reno] told of being denied a summer internship at a Miami law firm
because of her gender-and then becoming a partner there 14 years later. “I know what it’s like to finally have opportunity.”
Reno went on to spell out her agenda: “I want to remember
what it was like not to be able to get a job because I was a woman, and I want to make civil rights enforcement one of the high priorities of the office and do everything I can to see that Americans have equal opportunity.”
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.147 & 171
, Mar 1, 1993
Refused to respond to sexual preference questionnaire
Reno’s ugliest race for reelection occurred in 1988. Her challenger was a Coral Gables lawyer names Jack Thompson, who was in the vanguard of the growing religious right movement in Florida. Thompson’s campaign speeches were moralistic sermons in which
he accused Reno of going easy on child pornographers, and he suggested it was because she was a lesbian.
At one debate, Thompson handed Reno a questionnaire that asked her to check a box indicating her sexual preference: homosexual, heterosexual,
or bisexual. Reno crumpled the paper and refused to respond, and it never became an issue. A year later, Reno commented, “Thompson has nothing to worry about. I am attracted to strong, brave, rational, and intelligent men.”
[During her Attorney
General confirmation process, the press], hit her again with the question about her sexual orientation inspired by Jack Thompson. Reno was miffed, but kept her cool, smiled ruefully, and referred to herself as “an old maid who prefers men.”
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.100 & 153
, Sep 9, 1988
Defendant protections result in better police work
After surveying eight hundred lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and police administrators, the committee isued its report in 1988. Dash said that Reno’s attitude surprised him. “I didn’t expect to hear such a tough
district attorney saying some of the things she said. She proved sensitive to the rights of defendants. She was concerned with the adequacy of counsel for the indigent. She was worried about children.”
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p.117
, Jul 2, 1986
Accused of racism in Miami riots after McDuffie killing
In Dec. 1979, Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance executive, roared past police on his cousin’s motorcycle, launching a high-speed chase. When McDuffie finally pulled over, he was surrounded by a phalanx of Metro-Dade police officers and beaten, and died
5 days later. Five white police officers were charged with manslaughter and falsifying their reports. Reno committed more staff, time, and effort than she had ever devoted to a single case.
In May 1980, the defendants were acquitted on all charges.
Liberty City, Miami’s largest black neighborhood, erupted in anger. Rioters chanted “Reno! Reno!” as they torched cars and looted businesses. After 4 days, 16 people were dead. Literally overnight, Reno went from being castigated as “anti-police” for
prosecuting the McDuffie defendants to being vilified as “antiblack” for losing the trial.
Years later, Reno said the charges of racism by blacks “hurt deeply. I felt more strongly about that prosecution than any other matter we had handled.”
Source: Doing the Right Thing, by Paul Anderson, p. 77-81
, May 17, 1980
Page last updated: Jan 21, 2019