Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) said last night that he favors making special efforts to ensure the appointment of more blacks to the federal bench.

The promise by Thurmond, new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, came in brief remarks he made at a dinner of the National Bar Association, a group composed of black lawyers from across the nation.

The former Dixiecrat seemed to want to assure the black lawyers that his arch-segregationist past notwithstanding, he did not want to turn back the hands of the clock.

"I'm glad to be here because I'm interested in you. I'm interested in all the citizens of this country. I'm interested in equality of all the citizens of this country," Thurmond said.

"I also want to say that it's my desire to see more black lawyers going into judges," he said, prompting applause.

"The appointment of a judge shouldn't be based on color. On the other hand, I feel that if we can appoint more black judges it would help to balance the situation because now, of course, it's predominantly the other way."

As chairman of Judiciary, Thurmond wishes great power not only over judicial appointments but also over an array of civil rights legislation that is of concern to black lawyers.

Some National Bar Association members were skeptical about the choice of Thurmond as speaker, questioning whether he had really changed or simply toned down his once fiery rhetoric.

Others thought it made good sense for the black bar group to invite Thurmond since he is the man, like it or not, they will have to deal with on civil rights issues in the Senate.