FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Janet Reno’s Authoritarian Legacy

Former Attorney General Janet Reno passed away on Monday. While the media is awarding her sainthood as the first female attorney general, her eight years in office were a disaster for Americans’ rights and liberties. Miss Reno paved the way for many federal policies that are a pox in our times.

Miss Reno always saw government as the fount of all good and government employees as a Brahmin class. She told a group of federal law enforcement officers in 1995: “You are part of a government that has given its people more freedom … than any other government in the history of the world.” Miss Reno’s spin turned the Declaration of Independence on its head — as if freedom is a crumb that rulers sweep off their table as a favor for the citizenry.

In a 1996 speech to government prosecutors, Miss Reno declared: “All of you public lawyers are but little lower than the angels, and I salute you.” She showed her belief in angels in 1994 when she decreed that federal prosecutors would no longer be restrained by the ethics guidelines of state bar associations prohibiting all lawyers from contacting defendants directly without their lawyers present. Miss Reno’s power grab for federal prosecutors was unanimously condemned by the Conference of Chief Justices, representing all the state supreme courts.

As attorney general, Miss Reno stretched the law every chance she got in order to expand the lists of Americans punishable by the Justice Department. She was initially hailed as liberals’ Great White Hope — in part because she had publicly criticized federal drug laws that consign people to prison for nonviolent offenses. Miss Reno declared in 1993: “We’ve put often vast amounts of dollars into prisons, which are negative monuments against the landscape. Prisons are not an investment in our future.” During her reign, the population of federal prisons almost doubled. Miss Reno was initially deeply offended that mandatory federal penalties for crack possession were a 100 times harsher than penalties for cocaine. Yet, after the White House yanked her chain, she came out gung-ho in favor of the existing law — despite its severe disproportionate effects on blacks. When voters in California and Arizona supported the medicinal use of marijuana, Miss Reno threatened to punish any doctor who recommended cannabis to patients.

In October 1993, Miss Reno, upholding a long tradition of attorneys general in the forefront of excising the Constitution, called for government censorship of television violence. In Senate testimony, she warned: “If immediate voluntary steps are not taken [by television producers] and deadlines established, government should respond and respond immediately. We must move forward to set a schedule for compliance with proper standards, or government should set those standards.” Miss Reno did not say when she would be sending in the SWAT teams to take down Beavis and Butthead. But her intimidation tactics ensured her a tidal wave of positive press as a person who truly cared about children.

Miss Reno was the most anti-gun attorney general in American history up to that point. Her contempt for the Second Amendment knew no bounds: There was practically no gun control panacea floated on Capitol Hill or by liberal groups that she did not embrace. At the same time that she endorsed one scheme after another to forcibly disarm private citizens, her Justice Department bankrolled the militarization of police departments across the country.

Miss Reno was the chief law enforcement officer of an administration that vastly expanded government spying on private citizens. In 2000, controversy erupted over “Carnivore,” the FBI’s email wiretap software that allowed the agency to vacuum up vast amounts of private email — regardless of whether the feds have a search warrant. FBI officials “explained” the program’s ominous name by stressing that they never thought the public would learn of the program’s existence. Janet Reno took charge by announcing she would require the FBI to change Carnivore’s name.

Miss Reno’s most vivid legacy stems from her approval of the final FBI assault on the Branch Davidians on April 19, 1993 — an attack that ended with 80 dead men, women and children. In the summer of 1995, House Republicans held the first substantive hearings on Waco. The White House and congressional Democrats spent weeks trying to destroy the legitimacy and blacken the character of anyone who questioned federal action at Waco. Miss Reno appeared before the committee and acted indignant at any doubts about her wisdom and benevolence. The highlight her testimony was her declaration that the Bradley tanks that smashed through the Davidians’ ramshackle home should not be considered as military vehicles — instead, they were “like a good rent-a-car.” It was a routine law enforcement operation, except for the number of body bags needed afterwards. The media almost completely ignored her “rent-a-car” comment, instead praising her “holier than thou” demeanor and her refusal to admit that the feds shared any blame for a debacle that shattered millions of Americans’ faith in Washington.

America continues to suffer from the policies and precedents that Janet Reno unleashed in her eight years as attorney general. Her record offers endless proof that the federal government cannot be trusted to police itself. Unfortunately, that is a lesson that continues to go unheeded in our times.

This article originally ran in The Washington Times.

More articles by:

James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com  This essay was originally published by Future of Freedom Foundation.

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail