A moderate Republican official, Carla Anderson Hills (born 1934) served three presidents as lawyer, cabinet member, and US trade representative.
Carla Anderson Hills was born in Los Angeles on January 3, 1934, the daughter of Carl H. and Edith (Hume) Anderson. A tomboy nicknamed Butch, she grew up in affluence, living in Beverly Hills and attending private schools. Her father, a self-made millionaire, ran a lucrative building supply business. Under his tutelage Carla became a fierce competitor who excelled in sports. She captained the tennis team at Stanford, where she graduated magna cum laude in 1955, after spending a year abroad at St. Hilda's College, Oxford University.
Her desire to become a lawyer, which she claimed dated from grade school, clashed with her father's plans to bring her into the business. In 1955 she entered Yale Law School, working as a bank teller and bookkeeper to pay her tuition until her father relented and financed her schooling. She graduated in the top 20 of her class at Yale in 1958, but she could not land a job at a major firm. One San Francisco law office told her, "Sorry, there are no 'separate facilities' for women lawyers." Hills would later downplay the sexual discrimination she encountered. "I never really think about it, " she stated, offering her own formula for success. "Somewhere in your presentation, the audience stops thinking of you as a 5-foot, 6-inch woman with freckles on your nose. If people think you are immersed, are serious, have done your homework, then they take you seriously."
In 1958 she married Stanford law school graduate Roderick M. Hills and went to work for the US Attorney in Los Angeles arguing civil cases. She and her husband joined with others to form the law firm of Munger, Tolles, Hills, and Rickershauser in 1962. Hills and her husband worked together a great deal during their marriage, practicing in their Los Angeles firm from 1962 to 1974. Hills specialized in antitrust and securities cases and published three books on the subjects. She served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Bar Association in 1963 and of the National Association of Women Lawyers in 1965. That same year she was admitted to the bar of the US Supreme Court. In 1971 she taught as adjunct professor of antitrust law at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). During these years in Los Angeles, Hills had four children: a son Roderick and three daughters, Laura, Megan, and Lisa. Hills liked to boast that in spite of her active career she never missed a school play or birthday party.
Carla Hills became involved in government work almost by accident. In 1973 Elliot Richardson, then serving as President Richard Nixon's secretary of defense, flew to Los Angeles to recruit Hill's husband to become assistant secretary. He refused, but Richardson was impressed with Carla and later, after becoming attorney general, he offered her the job of assistant. Almost immediately after he made the offer, Richardson resigned to protest Nixon's firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in an incident known as the "Saturday Night Massacre." Hills went to work for the new attorney general, William Saxbe, working with the White House as Nixon became increasingly ensnared in legal battles. At the Justice Department she earned a reputation as a tough and able administrator.
In February of 1975 President Gerald Ford nominated her as secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Hills became the third woman to hold a cabinet position, joining Frances Perkins, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's secretary of labor, and Oveta Culp Hobby, Dwight Eisenhower's secretary of health, education, and welfare. Critics in the Senate complained that Hills had no background in urban affairs and had been named only to give Ford a woman appointee, but she was confirmed and later gained a reputation for her grasp of details and consummate skill at bureaucratic infighting.
As HUD secretary, Hills came into conflict with many city mayors and planning commissions who criticized her tight-fisted policies. Although she favored the restoration of urban centers, arguing that "it is far less costly to recycle a city than to build a suburb, " she opposed government funding, fearing it would add to the national deficit. Carla Hills served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development from March 1975 to January 1977.
During the Democratic administration of President Jimmy Carter, Hills returned to private practice as partner in the Washington firm of Latham, Watkins, and Hills. She served on the boards of directors of a number of prominent corporations, including Chevron, IBM, and American Airlines. She sat on several national commissions, including the Trilateral Commission and the Sloan Commission on Government and Higher Education. She also held advisory positions at a number of top educational institutions, including the University of Southern California, Stanford's and Yale's law schools, and Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.
A moderate Republican, Hills did not accept a position in the Reagan administration. Instead, she practiced law and served as chair of the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank that produced some sharp critiques of President Ronald Reagan's domestic policies. She also served on the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, co-chaired the Alliance To Save Energy, and acted as vice chair of the advisory council on legal policy of the American Enterprise Institute. In 1986 she became a managing partner in the Washington law offices of Weil, Gotshal & Manges.
In December of 1988 President George Bush named Hills US trade representative, a cabinet level position that carries with it the title of ambassador. Although Hills had no background in trade, at her confirmation hearing before the Senate she won unanimous approval by declaring, "We will open foreign markets with a crowbar where necessary, but with a handshake whenever possible." Delighted Washingtonians, including President Bush, sent Hills hundreds of crowbars. Her tough negotiating style, coupled with her feminine demeanor, won her the nickname the "velvet crowbar."
Hills faced an extremely demanding first six months as US trade negotiator. With no background in trade policy and no staff to speak of, she put herself through a crash course to get up to speed on trade disputes. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, who initially termed Hills "a disappointing choice, " praised her for her hard work and acknowledged she "had proved herself to be a quick study."
Hills, known as a "very lawyerly lawyer, " pored over details of agreements and then stuck to the text when she negotiated. "I think it is very important to know all the facts you possibly can about your position, " Hills insisted. "If you have all the facts, it will nudge [your trade strategy] along." Admirers praised her keen sense of US interests and her relentless bargaining style. Critics contended that she was cold, abrupt, and often impolitic. They complained that she was too much the lawyer, that she lacked vision and took "too legalistic an approach to trade."
According to Fortune magazine, in the years ahead the US trade representative faces formidable problems. As Europe moved toward economic unification in 1992, American business was increasingly worried about higher tariff walls. Japan continued its commercial dominance, and other Asian countries, particularly South Korea, were generating big trading surpluses with the United States. The trade negotiator's task will be to use the 1988 Trade Act to take action against the worst international offenders without destroying the fragile philosophy of free trade.
In 1991, Hills made a veiled threat of trade sanctions against Japan until further efforts were made to increase the US semiconductor industry's market share in the Japanese market. The US expected to have a 20% share by the end of 1992. Hills has had her share of successes. By 1993 she had opened Japanese markets to American goods and fought European Community Trade Barriers. In 1993, the former US trade representative joined the law firm of Shea and Gould. Although she was nominated for corporate directorship, she ended her work there by resigning. Her chief concerns continued to lie with US trade agreements and President Clinton's foreign and domestic trade policies.
Further Reading on Carla Anderson Hills
Further information on Carla Hills can be found in the cover story on Carla Hills in Business Week (January 22, 1990); "Two for the Trade, " in National Journal (August 12, 1989); Ann Reilly Dowd, "What To Do about Trade Policy, " in Fortune (May 8, 1989); I. Ross, "Carla Hills Gives the Woman's Touch a Brand New Meaning, " in Fortune (December 1975); and in "Call Her Madam, " in the Washington Post (February 26, 1975).