President Reagan appealed yesterday for the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork with arguments that White House officials hope will frame the debate over the person nominated after Bork is formally rejected by the Senate.
In a televised speech from the Oval Office that three of the four networks refused to carry, Reagan said "my agenda is your agenda . . . to appoint judges like Judge Bork who don't confuse the criminals with the victims, judges who don't invent new or fanciful constitutional rights for those criminals, judges who believe the courts should interpret the law, not make it; judges, in short, who understand the principle of judicial restraint."
Reagan's appeal for a nomination he has previously acknowledged is lost came on the heels of comments Tuesday to a Republican fund-raiser in New Jersey where he defiantly vowed to send up another nominee that the Senate would "object to as much as they did this one."
Senate Democrats responded angrily to Reagan yesterday, suggesting that the battle over the next nominee could be as bitter as the struggle over Bork.
Speaking for the Democrats, who control the Senate, freshman Sen. Terry Sanford (D-N.C.) said Reagan injected partisan politics into the Supreme Court nominating process during the 1986 elections. He said that, in campaigning against him, Reagan had charged that if Democrats regained control of the Senate they would allow "drugs, thugs and hoodlums" to prevail by placing "a bunch of sociology majors on the bench."
Sanford said 54 senators have announced opposition to Bork not because of politics or outside pressure groups but because they "made careful and honest evaluations and have found Judge Bork lacking in the qualities they want on the Supreme Court."
"We are tired of having our integrity impugned," he said. "We are tired of having our sincerity questioned. We are tired of having our intelligence insulted."
Sanford also assailed Reagan's continued campaigning for Bork's confirmation.
"It is at least imprudent that the president of the United States is fighting a rear-guard action against the clear mandate of the Senate to move on with the process of selecting a new Supreme Court nominee," he said. "One mark of a great leader is not only being gracious in victory but being gracious in defeat."
In his speech yesterday, Reagan said he is "determined to fight right down to the final ballot on the Senate floor," which seems likely to come next week. But the president also quoted from Bork's statement last Friday that he has "no illusions" about the outcome.
Reagan said the Bork confirmation process has been "an ugly spectacle marred by distortions and innuendos and casting aside the normal rules of decency and democracy." If the anti-Bork campaign succeeds, Reagan said, "it will permanently diminish the sum total of American democracy."
White House officials said the speech stressed law and order and judicial restraint because the administration wants to build popular support for his next nominee. One official said the emphasis should be "on crime and pornography" rather than "civil rights and privacy," two issues that were especially damaging to Bork.
A critical study by the Public Citizen Litigation Group found that Bork has voted for the prosecution in 23 of 24 criminal law cases in which he participated as a federal appeals court judge. Bork's stand on criminal justice issues did not become a decisive element of the debate.
In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Bork declined to comment on whether the Supreme Court has gone too far in protecting the rights of criminals, saying "I have written nothing about criminal law, senator. It's just never been one of my specialties."
Senate leaders haggled throughout the day without reaching agreement on a date to vote on the Bork nomination. Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) indicated that he is willing for it to be Wednesday, but he said other Republicans oppose setting a deadline.
Dole denied that Bork's GOP allies are attempting to delay what is viewed as his inevitable rejection by the Senate. He said several GOP members of the Judiciary Committee are "putting together a program" for the floor debate to correct what they see as distortions of Bork's record.
Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said, "If the Republicans want an issue, they can have an issue by dragging this out and beating a dead horse." He added: "Everyone knows what's going to happen to the nomination of Mr. Bork."
The three major networks -- CBS, ABC and NBC -- refused Reagan's request for television time yesterday on grounds his speech was political. CNN carried the speech and Sanford's response.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said the networks' response was "a sadly inadequate view of their public trust" after televising of hours of the Bork confirmation hearings.
Staff writer Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.