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First Case Could Have Been Worse For Reno

Thu., Dec. 12, 1996, midnight

At least she didn’t have to deal with a fish in a jar.

Janet Reno was treated none too gently Wednesday in her first try at arguing a case in person before the Supreme Court. And that was a bit of a surprise since attorneys general often pick easy cases to argue at some point in their terms.

But it wasn’t as much of a shock at the tradition-bound court as an appearance by Griffin Bell in the Carter administration.

He took on a controversial case - in fact he lost it - arguing against letting an endangered fish, the tiny snail darter, thwart a federal dam project.

And during the argument session, Bell engaged in a bit of show-and-tell, holding up a small jar with an actual snail darter inside.

More typical of cases argued by attorneys general: Benjamin Civiletti, later in the Carter administration, pressed for deportation of a Nazi war criminal. And Richard Thornburgh in the Reagan administration argued for drug testing of railroad workers after accidents. The government prevailed each time.

Weeks ago, when Reno selected a law-and-order dispute from Maryland in which to make her debut, the case was regarded as a likely victory for the government. But the conservative court seemed quite dubious about giving Reno and Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran what they sought for police nationwide: the power to order all passengers out of cars stopped for routine traffic offenses.

Reno is still unsure whether she will be asked to stay on in President Clinton’s second term.

She is expected to meet with Clinton to discuss the matter before Christmas. The betting is that she will be back.


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