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Carter has feminist critics on defensive

Whether the product of political maneuvering by the White House or the result of years of hard lobbying by feminists, women are filling increasing numbers of key positions in government and the judiciary.

Women's-rights advocates in and out of the Carter administration expect to see a continued trend toward promoting qualified women into these "role model" jobs in government. But the question, according to dedicated feminists, is whether high-level appointments for a few women are as important as overall equity.

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President Carter recently nominated feminist Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the strategically located US Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington. Mrs. Ginsburg is a Columbia University law professor and a leading advocate of women's rights.

The appointment comes as Mr. Carter and his chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, intensify their efforts to win the support of women voters. Last month, the executive board of the National Organization for Women (NOW) voted not to support Mr. Carter in the November election. That action seems to have caused a rift within NOW, and one active member said she is attempting to organize a NOW faction for Mr. Carter.

Mrs. Ginsburg's nomination has received near-unanimous approval from feminists, regardless of their political preferences.

"She was an excellent choice," says NOW executive board member Sue Errington of Muncie, Ind. Mrs. Errington was one of the board members present Dec. 8 when the vote was cast not to endorse Mr. Carter.

"We appreciate what he [President Carter] has done [for women's rights]," Mrs. Errington says, "but we do not feel he has done enough. Our opposition is based on the nonfulfillment of promises from 1976" -- such as the Carter promise to achieve ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.

But NOW member Roberta Fox, a Democratic state legislator from Miami, says the Ginsburg nomination is "one more example" of Mr. Carter's commitment to women's advancement.

In 1973, Mrs. Ginsburg argued before the Supreme Court for the right of a female member of the military to declare her spouse as a dependent in order to gain higher benefits. The court held that women should be accorded the same treatment in the military as men.

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Mrs. Ginsburg also has pushed for ratification of the ERA, arguing that it is necessary because it "prohibits government from steering women or men into a predetermined role on account of sex."

Her position on the federal appeals bench in Washington would give her a judicial voice on an innovative court that traditionally reviews complex cases such as those involving civil rights, employment discrimination, and federal regulations.

If confirmed by the US Senate, Mrs. Ginsburg will become one of 28 women federal judges appointed by President Carter. Five others have been nominated and are in various stages of the confirmation process. Four women who were appointed by previous presidents are on the federal bench. Overall, the White House says, 22 percent of all appointments by President Carter have gone to women.

But NOW president Eleanor Smeal says her organization has estimated that only 10 percent of the federal jobs with "real authority" have gone to women. She calls the Carter record "good, but not really a radical breakthrough." But presidential adviser Sarah Weddington points out that a concerted effort had to be made to find women with sufficient stature for the judgeships. "Every judge has at least 10 years legal experience," she says. "Ten years ago, only 4 percent of the lawyer population was female, so the base from which to draw was minuscule."

Mrs. Weddington says advancement of women into prominent public positions helps give a full range of "role models" to younger women, while at the same time improving government.


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