Janet Reno, taking office as the nation's first female attorney general, pledged Friday to keep abortion protesters from using physical force that "restrains access to a woman's right to choose."
She also said she would explore whether the Justice Department has authority to prosecute the man who shot and killed a doctor during a protest outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic this week.The 54-year-old former Miami prosecutor was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Byron White at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House. President Clinton, members of Congress and friends and relatives applauded. Her 14-year-old niece, also named Janet Reno, held the Bible.
After the ceremony, she quickly made clear there would be changes in the office of the nation's top law enforcement officer.
On a personal level, she said she would walk to work from a downtown apartment - though with a security detail at FBI insistence. She repeated her pledge of a day earlier that she would try to "do the women of America proud."
Questioned by reporters about some of the issues she will face, Reno said she would "look at the laws on the books now to see if there is any remedy that we might undertake in response" to the shooting in Pensacola.
She also said, in a shift from Bush administration policy, that she would try to determine how the federal government could use its authority to prevent protesters from blocking the entrances to abortion clinics.
"I think just as there should be a federal remedy for racial discrimination and for gender discrimination, I think in this instance somehow or another there has got to be a federal response to interference through physical conduct . . . which restrains access to a woman's right to choose," she said.
During the Bush administration, the Justice Department had joined an anti-abortion group in urging the Supreme Court to strip federal judges of the power to use a law aimed at the Ku Klux Klan against protesters.
On another issue, Reno said she would review sentencing policies to make "the whole sentencing pattern rational."
"I want to look at who's being sentenced, what they are being sentenced for, how long they are being sentenced," Reno said. "I want to compare that with what is happening around the nation in state and local government."
Critics argue that 1986 federal sentencing guidelines, which force judges to calculate prison terms according to formulas, have begun to crowd U.S. prisons with people serving long terms for relatively minor drug crimes.