CWL Mourns Death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein

CWL Mourns Death of Sen. Dianne Feinstein

California Women Lawyers mourns the loss of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California’s first woman senator and the nation’s longest-serving woman senator, who passed away at her home in Washington, D.C., September 28, 2023, at the age of 90.

Feinstein’s long political career was marked by numerous firsts. She served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 1970 to 1978, serving as the board’s first woman president in 1978.

She was present in City Hall when San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were killed by former Supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978, and she delivered the news of the killings to the public. The Board of Supervisors chose Feinstein to finish Moscone’s term, and she became San Francisco’s first woman mayor, winning a landslide reelection and serving from 1978 to 1988.

In 1990, she became the first woman to win a major-party nomination for governor of California, although she did not prevail in the general election. Instead, she set her sights on the U.S. Senate, and was elected in 1992, in what was dubbed the “Year of the Woman” because a then-record four women were elected to the Senate.

Feinstein and now retired Sen. Barbara Boxer became the first two women to be elected senators from California, with Feinstein sworn in first because she was replacing an appointed senator.

She was the first woman to chair the Senate Rules Committee (2007-2009) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (2009-2015), and she was the first woman to preside over a U.S. presidential inauguration, when President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009. She was the first woman to sit on the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, and in 2017, became the ranking Democrat on the committee, the first woman to assume that role, holding that position until 2021.

Among Feinstein’s most notable achievements was the enactment of the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, a law that prohibited the sale, manufacture and import of military-style assault weapons, which expired in 2014. She also initiated a six-year review of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, insisting on the 2014 release of the report’s executive summary and shepherding passage of legislation ensuring that certain post-9/11 interrogation methods are never used again.

A staunch feminist, Feinstein introduced and voted for legislation over the years to strengthen protections against sexual harassment, promote equal pay for women, protect young athletes from sexual abuse, and provide funding for investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

In 2020, shortly after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sen. Feinstein recorded a message for CWL to include in a virtual tribute to Justice Ginsburg, joining us in mourning the loss of an “absolute giant of jurisprudence … a trailblazer for women … a once-in-a-generation legal mind and a passionate champion for the rights of all Americans.”

Like Justice Ginsburg, Sen. Feinstein was a passionate public servant. CWL is grateful to Sen. Feinstein for her years of service and her dedication to women’s equality. CWL hopes to honor her memory by carrying on the work of advancing women in the legal profession and in society, improving the administration of justice, and fighting gender discrimination and inequality.

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