President Reagan this weekend is reviewing a list of 12 to 15 suggested nominees for the Supreme Court following the Senate's rejection Friday of Judge Robert H. Bork, and administration sources said the search is focusing on candidates who share Reagan's philosophy of judicial restraint but who will not generate as much opposition as Bork.
One of the leading prospects is Anthony M. Kennedy, a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento, one well-placed administration source said. Another judge who had been considered a leading contender, Pasco M. Bowman II, a federal appeals court judge on the 8th Circuit in Kansas City, now appears less likely, although his name is on the list that Reagan took to Camp David this weekend, the source added.
Bowman's nomination would likely trigger opposition from many of the same groups that worked to defeat Bork. Labor groups could be expected to question Bowman's sponsorship, while dean of the law school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., of a labor-law institute perceived as anti-union.
On the more moderate side of the political spectrum, appeals court Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham, of the 5th Circuit in Dallas, who was suggested by several southern Democrats who voted against Bork, is also considered an unlikely choice, sources said.
The National Right to Life Committee, in an Oct. 5 letter to Attorney General Edwin Meese III, criticized Higginbotham's opinion declaring unconstitutional a Louisiana law prohibitng fetal experimentation and said that the group would "devote our full resources to opposing the nomination."
Among the other candidates believed to remain high on the list of possible choices are several federal appeals court judges besides Kennedy: Laurence H. Silberman of the District; 2nd Circuit Judge Ralph K. Winter of New Haven, Conn.; and 9th Circuit Judge J. Clifford Wallace of San Diego.
Also on the list are Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the District, Gerald B. Tjoflat of Jacksonville, 4th Circuit Judge William W. Wilkins Jr. of Greenville, S.C. -- a favorite of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) -- and 2nd Circuit Judge Roger J. Miner of Albany, N.Y.
The list includes three women: federal appeals court Judges Edith H. Jones of Houston and Cynthia Holcomb Hall of Pasadena and Pamela Ann Rymer, a federal trial court judge in Los Angeles.
Kennedy, 51, appointed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Gerald R. Ford in 1976, wrote the appeals court decision, later upheld by the Supreme Court, holding that the one-house "legislative veto" violated the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers.
In 1985, he overturned the first state-wide "comparable worth" ruling, finding that "the state did not create the market disparity and has not been shown to have been motivated by impermissible sex-based considerations in setting salaries."
In a 1980 case, Kennedy upheld the Navy's discharge of homosexual sailors.
Silberman received a split rating of "qualified" from the ABA committee reviewing his nomination to the appeals court here in 1985.
Winter, 52, is a former colleague of Bork's at Yale Law School named to the appeals court in 1982. Sources said that the National Right to Work Committee has expressed its opposition to Winter, and that questions might also be raised from the other side about early writings sharply critical of federal civil rights laws.
Wallace, 58, long mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee, would likely come under fire from liberals for some of his remarks about church-state issues. A devout Mormon, he said in a 1981 speech that "the framers of the Constitution never intended to build a wall between the state and religion."