Janet Reno after the love-in

March 17, 1993

It usually takes 10 days to get from confirmation hearings to Senate vote, but Janet Reno was confirmed as attorney general by the Senate 98-0 just 53 hours after she first went before the Senate Judiciary Committee. All the panel's members praised her. No witnesses came forward to raise even minor doubts, much less to charge that she was unqualified. She will have cause to think back wistfully on this love-in in the months ahead. For she has now taken on one of the most conflict-filled jobs in the world.

As attorney general she has to decide such things as resource allocation among vastly different entities. The Justice Department is responsible for anti-trust enforcement; every kind of crime from the street variety to terrorism; civil rights; protecting the environment; tax law; land management. . . you name it. If it creates problems, the attorney general sooner or later gets involved.

Ms. Reno will have to oversee such assertive, somewhat independent and competitive entities as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She will have to get 93 U.S. attorneys across the country to follow (more or less) the policies and priorities her president was elected to establish. She will have to mediate between senatorial, bar association and interest-group views of candidates for scores of federal judgeships. She will be on the spot when it is decision time on spending more money on prisons and less on crime prevention -- or vice versa. Same thing when it is budgeting time for the various divisions in the department. How relatively important to each other in the context of dollars and cents are the Civil Rights Act and the Clean Water Act?

She will be even more visibly on the spot -- and soon -- on whether to keep FBI Director William Sessions, now laboring under a cloud of accusations of impropriety. The Waco standoff has also become her responsibility. She will have the added burden of being the first woman attorney general and thus judged by a different standard. But that probably won't last long. The ground rules for appraising Justice Sandra Day O'Connor quickly became gender-free, and we are sure the same thing will happen with Ms. Reno.

On paper and in her first demonstrations of how she handles praise, criticism and loaded questions, Ms. Reno appears to be a fine candidate to clean up and perk up a Justice Department embarrassed and demoralized by years of misadventures.

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