At confirmation hearings in 1982 on his nomination to become a federal appeals court judge, Robert H. Bork spoke scathingly of something he called "judicial imperialism" -- the tendency of judges to invent constitutional rights based on their policy preferences.

On that occasion and many others before and since, Bork defended his view that judges should stick close to the intent of the framers of the Constitution, the "sole legitimate premise from which constitutional analysis may proceed."

A judge's "sole task," Bork said in an American Enterprise Institute lecture in 1984, "is to translate the framer's or the legislator's morality into a rule to govern unforseen circumstances. That abstinence from giving his own desires free play, that continuing and self-conscious renunciation of power, that is the morality of the jurist."

That philosophy translates into a belief that the Supreme Court is wrong in discerning a constitutional right to privacy that led to its 1973 ruling that abortion is a "fundamental right."

"I am convinced, as I think most legal scholars are, that Roe v. Wade {the court's 1973 abortion ruling} is, itself, an unconstitutional decision, a serious and wholly unjustifiable judicial usurpation of state legislative authority," Bork testified before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee in 1981, adding that the case "is by no means the only example of such unconstitutional behavior by the Supreme Court."

However, Bork opposed as unconstitutional the Human Life Amendment then being considered by the subcommittee. The measure declared that human life exists from the moment of conception.

On criminal law issues, Bork has questioned the policy behind the rule keeping illegally seized evidence out of court, asserting the need to examine "how much deterrence {of illegal police conduct} we are getting and at what cost," and has said the constitutionality of the death penalty "is almost concluded by the fact" that it is mentioned in the Constitution.

Bork has also criticized the proposed Equal Rights Amendment because it would give judges power to decide "enormously sensitive, highly political, highly cultural issues."

In 1971, he said that "the principle of 'one man, one vote' runs counter to the text of the Fourteenth Amendment, the history surrounding its adoption and ratification, and the political practice of Americans from colonial times up to the day the court invented the new formula."

Bork has written little about two of the most contentious social issues that the high court has confronted: religion and affirmative action. In general, however, his philosophy is largely in tune with that of Justice Antonin Scalia, his once and perhaps future colleague, and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Bork is far more conservative than the retiring justice he has been nominated to replace, Lewis F. Powell Jr., for years the court's swing vote on such matters as abortion, affirmative action and aid to parochial schools.

In his five years on the appeals court here, Bork has put his conservative philsophy into action. A 1986 University of Miami Law Review article found that, in 11 civil cases raising constitutional issues involving access to the courts, Bork ruled against the plaintiffs 10 times. Among other decisions, he rejected claims that noncustodial parents have a constitutional right to visit their children and that the homeless have a due-process right to challenge shelter closings, a "wholly political decision."

Bork has ruled consistently in favor of government agencies and executive authority when their interests clashed with those of criminal defendants. In a case last year involving the denial of visas to Nicaraguan Interior Minister Thomas Borge and others, Bork dissented from a ruling permitting a lawsuit by their "potential listeners" to proceed. He rejected claims that Borge and the others had been unconstitutionally excluded because of their political beliefs.

He has also been reluctant to permit aggrieved parties to battle in court. For example, Bork dismissed lawsuits brought by an American held hostage in Iran, finding Iran immune from suit in a U.S. court, and by Israeli citizens against Libya and the Palestine Liberation Organization over a 1978 terrorist attack, saying that to hear the case in a federal courtroom would meddle in foreign policy.

He dissented in a case allowing then-Rep. Michael Barnes (D-Md.) to challenge in court President Reagan's pocket veto of a Salvadoran human-rights measure, asserting that the Constitution's framers "did not intend that the judiciary should entertain suits directly between the political branches of the national government. The judiciary they envisioned was to play no such dominant role in affairs of state."

Although in a controversial 1971 law review article Bork suggested that only "political speech" is protected by the First Amendment, he has won praise from press organizations -- and drawn fire from conservatives -- for some of his First Amendment rulings.

In a 1984 case dismissing a political science professor's claim that he was libeled by columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Bork expressed concern that "a freshing stream of libel actions, which often seem as much designed to punish writers and publications as to recover damages for real injuries, may threaten the public and constitutional interest in free, and frequently rough, discussion."

In another case that year, Bork said Metro transit officials violated an artist's First Amendment rights by refusing to lease him display space for a poster critical of the Reagan administration.

One of Bork's best-known and most controversial rulings came in the 1984 case of a Navy petty officer who claimed that his constitutional rights were violated when he was fired for homosexual conduct. "We can find no constitutional right to engage in homosexual conduct and . . . as judges, we have no warrant to create one," Bork wrote.

Four of the court's liberal judges, who wanted the full court to review the case, accused Bork of attempting "to wipe away selected Supreme Court decisions in the name of judicial restraint" and "to conduct a general spring cleaning of constitutional law."

Bork fired back, "The dissenters appear to be exercised because the conclusion that we could not discover a unifying principle underlying these {privacy-rights} cases seems to them an implicit criticism of the Supreme Court's performance in this area. So it may be, but, if so, the implied assessment was inevitable."

Although Bork -- in that case and others -- expressed some dissatisfaction with Supreme Court rulings, he has said that as a lower court judge he is bound to abide by Supreme Court precedent. That constraint would be lessened, however, were he to be promoted to the Supreme Court. In a 1985 interview, Bork said the importance of adhering to prior decisions is less in constitutional cases. "Since the legislature can do nothing about the interpretation of the Constitution given by a court, the court ought to be always open to rethink constitutional problems," he said.

"Constitutional doctrine," Bork wrote in the Barnes case, "should continually be checked not just against words in prior opinions but against basic constitutional philosophy."