Senator Dianne Feinstein, known for her independent streak and long tenure in the Senate, has died at the age of 90 following a period of deteriorating health.
What Happened: As reported by The New York Times, Feinstein, who devoted three decades of her life to the Senate, passed away on Thursday night, a family member confirmed. The longstanding senator had been battling frail health and memory issues in recent years, making it difficult for her to function independently. Despite repeated calls for her to resign, she steadfastly refused.
According to The New York Times, Feinstein's staff was notified about her death at 9 a.m. A spokesperson for Feinstein's office has not yet commented on the matter.
Feinstein's Legacy: She was elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in 1992 for California, and she passed away in the position, making her the oldest sitting senator and member of Congress at her death.
Her long tenure in Congress marked a number of other milestones: the first woman elected senator of California, the first woman member and first woman ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the first woman to chair the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, the first woman to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee, and in March 2021, she became the longest-serving senator from California.
It was this long tenure that sparked controversy, as many said she should have retired earlier. In July 2023, an apparently confused Feinstein began making remarks during a vote on an $823 billion military budget and had to be prompted by colleagues multiple times to simply vote "aye."
She had also spent weeks away from Washington, D.C. for shingles earlier in 2023. Feinstein's career in public service started in 1960, when she worked on the California Women's Board of Terms and Parole, then became the chair of San Francisco's Advisory Committee for Adult Detention in 1966.
In 1969, she won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, a position that she was in for nine years and was the board's first woman president. In 1971 and 1975 she ran for mayor in San Francisco, losing both times.
In 1978, after the assassination of then San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by former city Board of Supervisors member Dan White, who also killed Supervisor Harvey Milk, she became mayor because she was president of the board at the time. This made her the first woman mayor of San Francisco.
In 1979, she was elected mayor, a position she held until 1988. Among her achievements as mayor, Feinstein balanced nine budgets in a row. In 1987, City & State Magazine named her the nation's "Most Effective Mayor."
She ran for the governor of California in 1990, losing to Sen. Pete Wilson. When he left his position as senator, Feinstein was elected to take his place. Feinstein's accomplishments were many as a senator, and among them include:
- Leading a bipartisan group of senators in passing legislation to drastically increase the fuel efficiency of cars.
- Two consistent priorities have been combating wildfire and drought in California. Championed the preservation of the Mojave Desert, Lake Tahoe and California's forests, as well as San Francisco Bay wetlands restoration.
- She helped create the nationwide AMBER Alert network which helps law enforcement find abducted children.
- Closed a loophole in federal law by criminalizing the act of constructing or financing a tunnel or subterranean passage across an international border into the U.S.
- Helped enact the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, a law that prohibited the sale, manufacture and import of military-style assault weapons that expired in 2004.
- Part of the six-year review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program that culminated in the 2014 release of the report's executive summary and passage of legislation ensuring that certain post-9/11 interrogation methods (torture) are never used again.
- Authored the first major cybersecurity bill to be signed into law in years.
- Reauthorizing Violence Against Women Act: Introduced and helped secure passage of legislation to extend VAWA until 2027, including critical programs that help respond to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
- Advocate for consumers, authoring bills to review chemicals in personal care products, ban chemicals in toys, crack down on rogue Internet pharmacies from selling drugs without a prescription and strengthen food safety.
- Helped push forward the Breast Cancer Research Stamp, which raised nearly $100 million for breast cancer research.
- LGBTQ+ rights: Feinstein had a mostly positive record for this. As a member of San Francisco's Board of Supervisors, in early 1978 it passed the most far-reaching gay rights ordinance in the nation. But as mayor of San Francisco she disappointed her constituents in 1982 when she opposed a measure that would have granted registered domestic partners the right to some benefits, such as insurance.
- As a senator, Feinstein was initially against recognizing same-sex marriages - she was one of 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 - but changed her position. In 2008, she spoke against California Proposition 8, which was an amendment to the state constitution to revoke marriage equality after the California Supreme Court had ruled in favor of equal marriage rights earlier in the year. She also took a lead role in introducing the newest version of the Respect for Marriage Act.
- Despite her mixed record, in an Advocate article, Chad Griffin, then president of the Human Rights Campaign, said while endorsing Feinstein's reelection bid in 2018: "From the earliest days of her career as one of California's most devoted public servants, Senator Feinstein has been a stalwart supporter of the LGBTQ community."
Her paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland; her maternal grandparents were from St. Petersburg, Russia, and though German-Jewish in origin, they followed the Russian Orthodox (Christian) religion as Jews were forced to do.
She graduated from the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School in 1952. She attended Stanford University as a pre-med student, then as a political science and history major, graduating in 1955 with a bachelor's degree.
She interned at the Coro Foundation in San Francisco, an organization whose goal was to provide young people with political experience. Feinstein was married three times: Judge Jack K. Berman (1956, divorced 1959), Bertram Feinstein (1962, his death in 1978) and Richard C. Blum (1980, his death in 2002).
She is survived by her daughter, attorney Katherine Feinstein (born Berman) and granddaughter, Eileen Feinstein Mariano. In August 2023, Feinstein gave her daughter, Katherine Feinstein, her power of attorney, so she could handle a family issue about a beach house owned by Feinstein's late husband Richard Blum by his children from a previous marriage.