Ronald Reagan, striving to refute charges that he is insensitive to women's rights, said today he would name a woman to "one of the first Supreme Court vacancies in my administration."
"It is time for a woman to sit among our highest jurists," Reagan said in a prepared statement to a news conference here. "I will also seek out women to appoint to other federal courts in an effort to bring about a better balance on the federal bench."
Reagan appointed three persons to the state Supreme Court during the eight years he was governor of California. All were men. The Republican presidential nominee denied that his statement today was a reaction to criticism of his opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. wSupporters of ERA have picketed many Reagan rallies.
But Reagan acknowledged that he is running more strongly among male voters than female voters, among whom the undecided vote is significantly high. vA survey published today in The New York Times showed Reagan with an 11-percentage-point lead among men in the key state of Illinois while Carter led by 9 percentage points among women.
Reagan attributed his relatively poor showing among women voters not to ERA but to the peace issue.
"I would think it might reflect some success with the false charges made by the president and others that I might be prone to turn to war," Reagan said. "I think women might be more affected by that."
Reagan's polls show that the peace issue is the only one on which Carter is rated higher than Reagan. The GOP nominee has repeatedly tried to defuse this issue, saying on the stump that the most valued president is one who "keeps his nation at peace and his people at work."
Today, Reagan again presented himself as a man of peace when he was asked why he had advocated the use of military force in some situations such as his suggestion earlier this year that a naval blockade of Cuba would be an appropriate response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
"This [the Cuban blockade] does not envision armed conflict," Reagan said. "I doubt there would be any attempt to violate such a blockade. The simple answer about armed force is it is always the last resort. It is when there is no other choice, and if you have a firm policy, and a firm foreign policy, and you have the strength that you need to truly protect our national security, I doubt that there will come a point where you have to use it."
It was Reagan's first full-dress news conference in a month and his second since the traditional Labor Day campaign opening. President Carter has had one news conference during this period.
On other issues that arose today, Reagan:
Reaffirmed that as president he would seek to transfer federal welfare programs back to the states along with tax sources to pay for them. Reagan said he did not have a specific tax source in mind but at first would use block grants.
Called the incident in which Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.) has been charged with having oral sex with a minor "a very great tragedy." Asked whether he agreed with those who said Bauman should resign his chairmanship of the American Conservative Union, Reagan said there is "justification in some of what they ask but I'm not going to comment on it."
Said that Iran should release the U.S. hostages before other western countries sell the Iranian government spare military parts.
Said that he does not believe that Israel's West Bank settlements are "an obstacle to peace" but acknowledged that they "might have made it more difficult" for Israeli and Egyptian negotiators to agree on Palestinian autonomy.
"That's a judgment decision I won't make," Reagan said. "But the charge by this administration at the time those settlements first started that they were illegal was false."
Reagan campaigned Monday night at a synagogue at Van Nuys where he again pledged firm support for Israel. He wore a white yarmulke as he spoke and quipped, "In the business I used to be in, the good guys wore the white hats."
In making his announcement that he would name a woman to the high court, Reagan said that "a number of false and misleading statements" had been made about his positions in the campaign.
One of the accusations has been that I am somehow opposed to full and equal opportunities for women in America," Reagan said. "I regret even having to address this issue for fear that discussing it might lend even a scintilla of credence to such a charge."
Reagan then said he opposed "tokenism and false quotas" to correct past injustices. But he added: "I am also acutely aware, however, that within the guidelines of excellence, appointments can carry enormous symbolic significance. This permits us to guide by example -- to show how deep our commitment is and to give meaning to what we profess. One way I intend to live up to that commitment is to appoint a woman to the Supreme Court."
In Washington, Eleanor Smeal, head of the National Organization for Women, said Reagan's statement "is just an effort to draw voters' attention away from his essentially anti-woman positions."