In the pantheon of attorneys general, Janet Reno is remarkable in part for what she is not. She was not selected for her long-standing connection to the presidential family. Nor has she held any national political positions or party posts.

The link between politics and "the nation's number one law enforcement officer" is long-standing. It began with Thomas Jefferson's selection in 1801 of Levi Lincoln, a Massachusetts lawyer and politician, and has continued ever since. Woodrow Wilson's A. Mitchell Palmer was a member of the Democratic National Committee and a senior member of the House of Representatives. Franklin Roosevelt's first attorney general, Homer S. Cummings, was a Connecticut politician who had headed the Democratic National Committee.

A few attorneys general have been singled out for the shame they brought on the office. Foremost among them are Warren Harding's former campaign manager, Harry M. Daugherty, who was implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal, and two Nixon appointees: John N. Mitchell, the president's senior political strategist, who was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the Watergate coverup; and his successor, Richard G. Kleindienst, who had been a member of Nixon's campaign committee and general counsel of the Republican National Committee, and who was convicted of failing to testify accurately about an International Telephone & Telegraph Corp. antitrust settlement.

Eight former attorneys general have gone on to become Supreme Court justices: Roger B. Taney, Nathan Clifford, Joseph McKenna, James C. McReynolds, Harlan Fiske Stone, Francis W. Murphy, Robert H. Jackson and Thomas C. Clark. (Taney and Stone were chief justices.)

Sources: "Above the Law: Secret Deals. Political Fixes and Other Misadventures of the U.S. Department of Justice," by David Burnham (Scribner); Washington Post archives