Dianne Feinstein was a California Democrat who dedicated her life to public service, first at the local level and then at the national level. when serving as temporary mayor of San Francisco when the sitting mayor was assassinated in 1978, she ran for the role the following year and won, serving until 1988. She ran for governor of California two years later, but lost.
However, in 1992, she became the first woman elected to the United States Senate from California, a position she held until her death. Feinstein passed away on September 28, 2023, at the age of 90.
Dianne Feinstein was born Dianne Emiel Goldman on June 22, 1933 in San Francisco. She was born into a Jewish household and attended a Roman Catholic school and a Jewish temple as a child before becoming interested in politics at the age of 16.
Dianne attended Stanford University after graduating from San Francisco’s Convent of the Sacred Heart High School, where she was involved in student government. In 1955, she received her bachelor’s degree.
Dianne married Jack Berman, whom she met in the San Francisco district attorney’s office, the following year, and they had a daughter called Katherine. She and Berman divorced in 1959. She married neurosurgeon Bertram Feinstein, whom she met at a holiday party, three years later.
Entering the Public Sphere
California Governor Pat Brown named Feinstein to the state’s Women’s Board of Parole in 1960, making her the country’s youngest member at the time. She retained the position until 1966, when she was appointed to the San Francisco Committee on Crime, an appointment that shaped the rest of her career.
Feinstein stood for and was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969, eventually becoming the first woman to serve as the board’s president, a position she held for two and a half terms. During this time, she also stood for mayor twice, losing in both the 1971 and 1975 elections.
Feinstein have a difficult year in 1978. When Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were both slain in November, it signified the end of her second marriage and the end of her career as board president. Feinstein first served as acting mayor, becoming San Francisco’s first female mayor, before being elected the following year and remaining in office until 1988.
U.S. Senate Career
After a failed bid for governor of California in 1990, Feinstein regrouped and campaigned in a special election for a seat in the United States Senate two years later. On November 10, 1992, she was sworn in as President.
Beginning with the 1994 election, Feinstein was re-elected five times. The centrist Democrat in the Senate advocated for gun control and crime reduction efforts, L**TQ rights, environmental protections, and consumer protections, among other concerns. Feinstein was the Senate Judiciary Committee’s first female member and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee’s first female chair.
Her first tenure as California’s first female senator was full with accomplishments, including co-authoring the Gun Free Schools Act and the Hate Crimes Sentencing Enhancement Act, both of which were passed into law in 1994. Feinstein was also a driving force behind legislation prohibiting the manufacturing, sale, and possession of military-style assault weapons, which was signed into law on September 13, 1994.
Although the final bill was a watered-down version of Feinstein’s initial proposal, it prohibited weapons such as Kalashnikov and AR-15-style rifles, which are commonly used in mass shootings. This bill became one of Feinstein’s most well-known legislative achievements. The ban expired in 2004, and Feinstein and other Democrats have failed to reinstate it.
In 1996, Feinstein was one of just 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman, thereby outlawing same-sex marriage in the United States. She signed on to an amicus brief requesting the United States Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage, which it did in the landmark case United States v. Windsor in 2013. Feinstein also presented the Senate version of the Respect for Marriage Act, which repealed DOMA and compelled all states and territories to recognize same-sex marriage as lawful. President Joe Biden signed the measure into law in December 2022.
Feinstein has prioritized the protection and preservation of California deserts since her first term, when she introduced the Desert Protection Act of 1994, which established Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Mojave National Preserve. The statute safeguarded about 7.6 million acres of California desert wilderness. Feinstein advocated for the passage of additional public lands legislation to update and strengthen such safeguards.
Feinstein authored and saw signed into law the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act of 1996, as well as the Federal Gang Violence Act, which passed as part of the 1997 Juvenile Justice bill (but was not acted on by the House of Representatives).
She was a tireless advocate for the political left, founding and supporting the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, the Small Business Defense Conversion Guarantee Act, expanding child abduction alert systems, and legislation to create the Breast Cancer Research Stamp. She also advocated for consumer protection laws such as phthalate prohibitions in children’s toys, measures to combat fraudulent Internet pharmacies, and tighter pathogen standards for chicken products.
Following the September 11 attacks, Feinstein spearheaded the Senate’s six-year study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, notably its use of torture. As a result, the agency and its treatment of terrorist suspects were heavily criticized.
The complete 6,700-page torture report, which drew on millions of CIA documents, remains classified, but Feinstein helped fight for the public publication of a 525-page executive summary in 2014, over the agency’s and President Barack Obama’s objections. This, according to Feinstein, is the most important job of her career, as well as the most important oversight action ever done by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Feinstein, a veteran of Washington’s political fights, strove to avert the perils of a federal government shutdown in January 2018 as the two parties squabbled over a budget measure. “Shutting down the government is a very serious thing,” she stated. “People die, accidents occur…” There is no exact list you can look at and say, ‘Well, everything is going to be just wonderful.’ You can’t make that decision. As a result, I believe it is a last resort. And I’m hoping we don’t get there.”
Feinstein faced an internal party battle the following month when California Democrats refused to endorse her Senate reelection candidacy at their annual conference. Kevin de León, the California Senate’s leftist leader, received the majority of votes, but fell short of the 60 percent required for the party’s endorsement. Feinstein didn’t appear too bothered by the rejection, given that she had a big fundraising advantage and a comfortable lead in surveys at the time. She went on to defeat de León by more than eight percentage points in the general election.
Feinstein collaborated with North Carolina Senator Richard Burr in 2015 to gain passage of the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, the country’s first comprehensive cybersecurity legislation. It advocated for information sharing between commercial firms and the government, as well as privacy and liability measures for citizens. The bill was signed into law by President Obama.
In 2022, Feinstein introduced bipartisan legislation with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley to reauthorize and update the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which seeks to prevent human and s** trafficking, provide services to victims, and increase federal coordination for the government’s response to the issue. Feinstein also drafted legislation to protect young athletes from s**ual abuse. The Senate approved both bills.
Feinstein has three marriages, the most recent to financial banker Richard Blum. The couple married in 1980 and lived together till his cancer death in February 2022.
Dianne previously married Jack Berman for three years, from 1956 to 1959. They had a daughter named Katherine together. Dianne married neurosurgeon Bertram Feinstein, who was originally from Canada and about 20 years her senior, a year after their first marriage ended in divorce. Bertram passed away from cancer in 1978.
Feinstein, who was 89 at the time, stated in February 2023 that she would not run for a seventh term in 2024. She was hospitalized a month later for shingles, which led to encephalitis and other serious medical issues. Despite a three-month vacation from Congress, she refused to resign and dismissed allegations of her worsening health and memory issues. When she returned, she was unable to recall specifics and information while addressing reporters’ queries. Feinstein also told reporters she hadn’t been gone from her office, sparking fresh concerns about her mental health and escalating calls for her resignation.
Feinstein passed away on September 28, 2023, at the age of 90. The reason of death has not been disclosed.