When word leaked out a few weeks back that Deputy Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen was in line for a federal judgeship in California, aides to Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) protested that their boss had made no such recommendation to the White House.

Why the protest, given Jensen's qualifications for the federal bench? It seems that Wilson has an elaborate screening process for recommending federal judges, which had been the subject of a laudatory two-part series in the Los Angeles Times. And the senator's screening committee hadn't yet interviewed all the candidates. So Wilson's aides insisted that the speculation was premature and that no one had gotten the senatorial nod.

Last Friday, Wilson's office announced that after careful deliberation, the senator was recommending none other than D. Lowell Jensen for the district judgeship. That came as no surprise at the Justice Department, where senior officials already were measuring their new offices and preparing for the spate of promotions to be triggered by Jensen's departure. Struggling Enterprise . . .

Much has been written about the fund-raising woes of the right and of the left. But the American Enterprise Institute -- the moderately conservative, or conservatively moderate think tank -- also has felt a budget pinch, leading to some significant staff cuts. Last December, 34 positions were eliminated, involving 21 layoffs. Twelve more positions were eliminated late last month. If the institute does not get special funding -- from the foundations and corporations that are its major support -- more layoffs may occur between June 30 and December. Most of AEI's expenses are in salaries.

AEI studies fall into three categories: economic, international and social/political. The economic policy area, in which AEI might be said to specialize, will continue to get general funding. International and social/political areas will feel more of the cuts, and their funding will have to be supplemented by designated corporation and foundation grants. Four or five projects have been put on "challenge status" until Dec. 30, meaning they must be funded entirely by special contributions. Modesty Loves Company . . .

Winner of this week's Hornblower Award is Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.). Last Friday, after the Senate passed a fiscal 1987 budget resolution, Weicker's office issued a release titled "$600 Million Increase in Health Funding Achieved by Weicker, Others."

It begins: "The budget resolution . . . passed today by the Senate contains approximately $600 million in additional funding for federal health programs due largely to the efforts of Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education."

Weicker isn't up for reelection until 1988.