The Reagan administration will return to "the traditional procedures" of allowing Republican senators to select federal district judges as they wish largely scrapping a selection process the Carter administration designed to place more women and minorities on the bench, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said yesterday.

Warner said the new policy was contained in a memorandum by Attorney General William French Smith, which he and other Republican senators discussed this week with Justice Department officials.

"One senior senator interpreted the administration's position as close to the old blue slip veto power that senators held, although the phrase wasn't used," Warner said.

Although the new policy returns considerable patronage to Republican senators, the administration left open the option of making known its own favorites for appointments to the U.S. District Court. "The attorney general may, when appropriate, make recommendations to senators with regard to specific judicial candidates," is how the memo put it.

It also said that the precise means for selecting Appeals Court judges has not yet been decided, but assured that "the president's mechanism . . . at that level will include provisions" for senators to make their choices known.

The guidelines said both the president and the Republican leadership of the Senate are "firmly committed to the principle that federal judges should be chosen on the basis of merit and quality," but left to the individual senators the method of determining those values.

Warner described the guidelines as "a return to the pre-Carter position . . . in which senators have considerable authority" in nameing federal judges in their home states.

During the Carter administration, all federal appeals court judges were selected by ostensibly nonpartisan panels and Democratic senators were encouraged by the White House to establish similar panels to select district court nominees. About half of the Democrats did.

The result did not eliminate politics entirely from the judicial selection process, but, coupled with Carter's emphasis on selecting minorities and women for the bench, judicial scholars say the president succeeded in altering the makeup of the federal bench.

Carter's plan found more than 85 women, blacks and Hispanics for the federal judiciary. But one survey showed Carter had named a higher percentage of members of his own party to the bench than any president in history, although that was partly the result of having 152 new judgeships to fill. The administration left office with two vacancies in Virginia for the Republicans to fill.

The Reagan guidelines urge senators to look for "attorneys who practice in different fields of law, law professors and deans, judges of different courts, government lawyers, legal services and public interest lawyers, women attorneys and lawyers who are members of various minority groups . . . professional organizations including those representing women and minorities. . . ."

Carter's efforts to add women and minorities to the federal bench failed in Virginia. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., an independent who was considered a Democrat for purposes of patronage, followed Carter's recommendation of naming judicial selection commissions to find nominees. But when Byrd's commissions recommended 10 white males for the two vacancies in the state, Carter balked at nominating anyone and Byrd refused to expand the lists, saying he had followed the president's guidelines to the letter.

Carter ultimately backed down and nominated three of Byrd's nominees and a fourth candidate, the state's only black circuit court judge. Only two of the nominees, both Byrd candidates, cleared the Senate before Carter left office.

As a result, Warner now can play the key role in filling the state's two remaining vacancies.

One innovation planned by Warner is to invite sitting federal judges in Virginia to make recommendations. Warner said he would give "special weight" to persons recommended by those judges.

In an effort to find minorities and women, Warner said he would waive a recommendation of the American Bar Association that nominees have at least 12 years' experience, because until recent years, few blacks or women were admitted to law schools in Virginia.

"I am 54 now and when i entered law school in 1949, of the hundreds of my classmates, only two or three were women and one or two were black, so you can see that the pool of women and minorities from my primary source of candidates, the Virginia colleges, is small," Warner said.

Warner also said that he has interviewed several women lawyers, inlcuding federal magistrate Elsie L. Munsell of Alexandria, who has submitted her qualifications to area bar members for consideration.

Yesterday's vote in favor of Casheris was the fourth time in recent days that he has emerged as the favorite of Northern Virginia lawyers. He also led in the balloting of Arlington, Fairfax and Price William county bar groups.

Cacheris, 47, was one of the persons endorsed last year by Byrd's commission.

Warner refused to speculate on whom he might support, although he said that he would probably recommend two or three persons for each vacancy.

Warner said that while "I will not be rushed" in choosing his nominees he expects to have his selections ready to go to the president by early summer. h