Remarks on Signing Executive Order 12336, Establishing the Task Force on Legal Equity for Women

December 21, 1981

The President. Welcome to the White House.

The decisions that are made in this room mold and shape the Federal policy, and today we are here to reaffirm, or affirm again, that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the Federal Government.

During the campaign I stated that while I was opposed to the ERA, I was dedicated to eliminating discrimination against women. We've made progress in fulfilling this commitment. Judy Peachee has been appointed as my special assistant to vigorously pursue this objective. With her help, in October we launched the Fifty States Project to ferret out any remaining discriminatory laws at the State level. Judy is keeping me advised on the progress that's being made there.

Admittedly, most of our attention in these first months has been focused on putting America's economic house in order, and I don't think anything could be more helpful to American women than reducing inflation and laying the foundation for solid economic progress. We've accomplished more in this area than anyone, I'm sure, would have predicted. At the same time, however, specific steps other than the Fifty States Project have been taken.

To assist the task force we're establishing today, the Attorney General is systematically reviewing laws and regulations with an eye to identifying gender-based discrimination. Also, I think, we can take a little credit for making Sandra O'Connor the first female Supreme Court Justice.

Today we meet to move forward one more step. The Task Force on Legal Equity for Women will work to ensure that current and future Federal regulations do not discriminate because of sex. For the first time, there will be a working Task Force, with a clear Presidential mandate, for this express purpose. The people who will carry out this mandate were selected because of their ranking positions in the departments and agencies. Demonstrating the seriousness of our effort, members of the Task Force hold the rank of Assistant Secretary or the equivalent, in the Cabinet departments, and the rank of Deputy Administrator in the independent agencies. Fourteen of the 21 members are women. All are in positions to effect change.

I've asked Carol Dinkins of the Justice Department to chair the Task Force. She has impressive legal experience in dealing with regulations and has chaired two regulatory review task forces in Texas. Furthermore, in her current position as an Assistant Attorney General, she has the responsibility for examining and analyzing laws and regulations. I believe she's ideally suited to manage the functions of the Task Force and will take this responsibility with the seriousness it deserves.

So now, in pursuing our goal of equal opportunity for all Americans, it gives me sincere pleasure to sign this Executive order establishing the Task Force on Legal Equity for Women.

It is signed, the Task Force is in existence, and, Carol, you can have the pen. [Laughter]

Ms. Dinkins. Thank you.

Reporter. Mr. President, when you talk about eliminating discrimination, might it not be easier to just, with one point, have the ERA and take care of it at one level federally?

The President. Well, I know that that is the way many think. My objections have been not because of opposition to what it was supposed to accomplish, but to the fact that it would take out of the legislature and put in the hands of the courts this matter. And it wouldn't be just simple; it would mean people believing that the constitutional right had been violated, taking their case to court, and long litigation on many points. And it offers an opportunity for mischiefmaking, not on the part of women, but on the part of men who would seek to take advantage of it for their own benefit. And with our own experience in California, where we eliminated by statute 14 outright discriminations against women, this was where, I believe, that there was a better way.

The truth of the matter is -- I'm not a lawyer, and as the poet says, ``I'm not so smart as these lawyer guys'' -- strictly between us two -- I believe that, actually, we have a constitutional provision now. The 14th amendment specifically uses the word ``persons'' -- that all persons are equal in this country. And, indeed, some cases have been brought in the context of the 14th amendment.

Again, as I say, it leaves it up to lengthy litigation, and it seems to me that it's just far simpler to change the regulations and to change the existing statutes, and that does it.

Note: The President spoke at 11:55 a.m. at the Cabinet Room ceremony attended by the members of the Task Force and reporters.

On the same day, the Office of the Press Secretary announced the 21 members of the Task Force. They are:

Carol E. Dinkins, Assistant Attorney General, Land and Natural Resources Division, Department of Justice (Chairman of the Task Force);

Arlene Triplett, Assistant Secretary for Administration, Department of Commerce;

Lawrence J. Korb, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Manpower, Reserve Affairs and Logistics);

Jean Tufts, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Department of Education;

Robert C. Odle, Jr., Assistant Secretary, Congressional, Intergovernmental, and Public Affairs, Department of Energy;

Dorcas Hardy, Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services;

Judith Tardy, Assistant Secretary for Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development;

J. Robinson West, Assistant Secretary -- Policy, Budget and Administration, Department of the Interior;

Mary C. Jarratt, Assistant Secretary, Food and Consumer Services, Department of Agriculture;

Lenore Cole-Alexander, Director, Women's Bureau, Department of Labor;

Joan M. Clark, Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Personnel, Department of State;

Katherine M. Anderson, Director, Executive Secretariat, Department of Transportation;

Angela Buchanan, Treasurer of the United States, Department of the Treasury;

Winifred Pizzano, Deputy Director, ACTION;

W. Antoinette Ford, Assistant Administrator for Near East, Agency for International Development;

Joseph A. Cannon, Acting Associate Administrator for Policy and Resource Management, Environmental Protection Agency;

James T. Hackett, Associate Director for Management, International Communication Agency;

Linda L. Smith, Assistant to the Director for Administration, Office of Management and Budget;

Loretta Cornelius, Deputy Director, Office of Personnel Management;

Carolyn D. Schoenberg, Director, Women's Business Enterprise, Small Business Administration;

Elizabeth Flores Burkhart, Associate Deputy Administrator for Information Resources Management, Veterans Administration.