On April 17, Janet Reno ’63, the first woman attorney general of the United States, received the 2009 Justice Award of the American Judicature Society, in Washington, D.C. The Justice Award is the society’s highest honor.
Gordon Doerfer ’66, a retired associate justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court and the current president of AJS, praised Reno as “creative and courageous,” and said she “has never stopped working to improve the administration of justice.”
Reno was nominated to the post of U.S. Attorney General by President Clinton in 1993. She was the first woman in the role, and the longest-serving AG in the twentieth century. In 2001, she returned to private life in Miami. She currently serves as a director of AJS, and as co-chairwoman of the AJS Commission on Forensic Science and Public Policy.
A 1960 graduate of Cornell University, she received her LL.B. from HLS in 1963, one of only sixteen women in a class of more than 500 students. She was named staff director of the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives in 1971, and given the task of reforming the Florida court system. In 1973, she accepted a position with the State Attorney’s Office in Dade County. After the state attorney stepped down, she was appointed by Governor Reubin Askew as state attorney in 1978, the first woman to serve in this role. She was subsequently elected to this position five times.
The Justice Award tribute to Reno incorporated components of “Song of America,” a project she conceived in the late 1990s and for which she was executive producer. Released in 2007, the 50-song album features music that tells the story of civil rights struggles and other pivotal moments that shaped American history.
In February 2007, Reno was the keynote speaker at an HLS conference titled “Rewriting the Rules: The Paradox of Success as an HLS Woman” [Watch the video]. Sponsored by the Harvard Law School Women’s Law Association, the conference fostered discussion about issues facing women in the legal profession. In 2004, she delivered the keynote address for the HLS Celebration 50 event, which marked 50 years of women HLS graduates.