As state’s attorney in Dade County, Fla., Janet Reno may not have dealt with federal issues, such as the separation of church and state, that are of special concern to American Jews.
But Jewish community leaders in the Miami area, some of whom have worked closely with Reno over the years, say they are thrilled President Clinton has selected her as his new nomine for attorney general.
These Jewish leaders paint a glowing picture of a woman committed to reaching out to all religious, racial and ethnic groups, a woman who, they believe, would stand up for civil rights issues once in charge of the U.S. Justice Department.
Judy Gilbert-Gould, director of community relations for the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, who worked for Reno over a decade ago, called the nominee an “outstanding human being.”
In 1989, Reno won an award from the Miami section of the National Council of Jewish Women for her work in helping children and others.
The award is “given to a person who has really been an advocate” in working to “change the lives of others,” said Nan Rich, the organization’s national vice president.
“Whenever there’s a march, or whatever the occasion, she is always out there expressing her support for every racial and ethnic part of the community,” said Rich, a Florida resident.
Reno, 54, has served as state’s attorney in Dade County since 1978. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she is single and childless, and therefore did not have any of the “nanny problems” that proved to be the downfall of Clinton’s previous nominee, Zoe Baird, and would-be nominee, Judge Kimba Wood.
Reno, whose nomination was announced Feb. 11, has demonstrated “a commitment to everyone’s human rights, especially those who could fall through the cracks, like children,” said Jane Fishman, NCJW’s Florida state public affairs chair.
“Not every state’s attorney makes a commitment to protecting the rights of the poor,” said Fishman, who is a criminal defense lawyer. “The mystery is why she wasn’t the first one thought of” to be attorney general.
CROSSED SWORDS WITH FAR RIGHT
According to Fishman, Reno has crossed swords with various groups over the years, including gun owners, conservative Christian groups and “the far right.” Those groups do not like her “for all the reasons we tend to like her,” she said.
“She’s going to do such a good job, even Clinton doesn’t know it,” said Arthur England, chairman of the board of the Anti-Defamation League’s Florida region. “She’s a straight arrow and a bright lady.”
England, a law partner of Reno’s for a couple of years in the 1970s, said he has gone camping and hiking with her. He described her as “down to earth, with no pretenses.”
“It’s a remarkable appointment,” England said. “I’m thrilled about it.”
Reno “cares about children,” England said, and “worries about multiculturalism.” She taught herself Spanish, he said, to communicate with the large Spanish-speaking community in the Miami region.
Last year Reno served as co-chair for ADL’s Jurisprudence Award luncheon.
Mark Freedman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress’s Southeast region, called Reno’s appointment “spectacular.”
“She is clearly qualified to deal with the significant issues that await the next attorney general,” he said.
Freedman pointed out that during the time Reno has headed the State’s Attorney’s Office, Florida has enacted laws calling for enhanced penalties for perpetrators of hate crimes.
“There’s a recognition on Janet Reno’s part of religious and racial minorities’ needs, of the special protection these laws offer,” he said.
Freedman said he hoped that as attorney general, Reno would seek reforms in the Justice Department’s Immigration and Naturalization Service allowing Haitian refugees greater ability to seek political asylum in the United States.
He said he also hoped the Justice Department would remedy “inequities” in the Civil Rights Act of 1991 that allow greater awards of punitive damage for racial discrimination than for religious or gender-based discrimination.
Freedman observed that over the past 12 years, organizations like AJCongress that support the separation of church and state, and civil rights issues, have been in an “adversarial position to the Justice Department.”
The appointment of Reno, he said, could “open a new era in relations between the civil rights community and the Justice Department.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.