Ronald Reagan, attempting to pacify Republicans angry over the party's retreat on the Equal Rights Amendment, told a group of women today that he would consider appointing a woman to the Supreme Court and would not rule out an ERA supporter as his vice presidential running mate.
Reagan, spending much of his first full day at the GOP convention in his 69th-floor Plaza Hotel suite, also assured 16 ERA supporters that he would rigidly enforce sex discrimination laws and appoint women to top spots in his administration.
Although he did not retreat in the private session from his longstanding opposition to the ERA, Mary Louise Smith, a GOP national committee-woman from Iowa, said: "We had a good meeting . . . . We feel very satisfied."
Among those in attendance was Reagan's daughter, Maureen, an outspoken ERA supporter. "The fact that we had this meeting showed that our family isn't going to come apart at the seams," she told reporters.
Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.) said she told Reagan he should consider appointing a woman Supreme Court justice because "this single step could demonstrate his avowed commitment to the equal rights of women."
Reagan, she said, was receptive to the idea and claimed he had come close to naming a woman to the California Supreme Court while governor. Heckler and the others at the meeting said they were impressed with how Reagan described his record of appointing women to state government posts.
But he apparently overstated his case.
In his eight years in office, Reagan did not appoint one woman to a cabinet post and he appointed three men, including his executive secretary, to the state's high court.
Women's issues have been one of the few things to split moderates and conservatives in what Reagan forces have portrayed as a "unity convention."
Smith, Heckler and other moderates sought the meeting with Reagan after the GOP platform committee refused to endorse the ERA, which has been part of the party's platform since 1940.
The women lobbied strongly for Reagan to make a major public statement in support of women's rights before his nomination Wednesday night, or in his acceptance speech Thursday night. Reagan did not respond to the suggestion, according to those at the meeting.
While pleased with the outcome of the meeting, Heckler said she told Reagan that the equal rights issue "will not blow over and he needs to talk more about women's rights as he campaigns."
The vice presidency, she said, came up only once, when Reagan was asked if he would be willing to pick an ERA supporter as a running mate. "I would not rule that out," she quoted him as saying.
The National Organization for Women, which sponsored a large ERA rally in Detroit Monday, expressed displeasure with the Republican women's willingness to accept Reagan's assurance.
In a statement, NOW President Eleanor Smeal said: "The Republican platform is consciously deceptive. It attempts to give the appearance of showing a concern for women's rights, but offers no solutions and undermines existing efforts to achieve equality."