The Justice Department will seek appointees who believe in "the sanctity of human life" to fill 114 federal judgeship vacancies and will press legal challenges to "impermissible quotas" as a civil rights remedy, Attorney General Edwin Meese III said yesterday.

"I think they [judges] should have a feeling of sanctity for human life, but I don't think that we'll use any litmus test that relates to abortion or anything like that," he said.

The phrase "sanctity of human life" refers to "a general concept and approach, but it's certainly not a narrow litmus test," he said. "Pro-choice" advocates in the nation argue that the phrase is a code that means "antiabortion."

Appearing on CBS's "Face the Nation," Meese reaffirmed the department's commitment to challenging affirmative action plans that use "impermissible quotas" to discriminate against "certain classes of people."

"I think we have to look at these on a case-by-case basis, but I think that no matter what the impact is, we cannot just have the United States government be a party to plans that discriminate against people."

Since mid-1984, when the Supreme Court overturned a Memphis plan to lay off white firefighters to protect jobs held by less senior blacks, the department has sought in other cases to protect white men against quota systems designed to remedy past discrimination against blacks, women and others.

This month, the administration backed white firefighters in the District of Columbia in their legal challenge to an affirmative action plan that allowed blacks to be promoted over whites who had scored higher on an examination.

Meese said, however, that the Justice Department has no objection to "set-aside" programs in which a certain portion of government contracts are reserved for minority-owned businesses.

A minority firm, he said, "might include white workers."

Meese said the department and the administration are "very much in favor of affirmative action" when it takes nondiscriminatory forms and "is a positive step to provide more jobs or more opportunities for minorities.