Senate liberals and conservatives yesterday gave cautiously favorable early reviews to Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, President Reagan's latest choice for the Supreme Court.

With enthusiasm tempered by the post-nomination troubles encountered by the president's two previous choices for the court, a broad range of senators from both parties indicated that the federal appeals judge from California is likely to be confirmed, based on what they know of his experience and philosophy.

But few offered unqualified support, and most said Kennedy could expect intense, even unprecedented scrutiny in light of controversies that doomed Robert H. Bork, who was rejected by the Senate, and Douglas H. Ginsburg, who withdrew after admitting he had smoked marijuana.

"I hope this nomination will provide no more surprises for the Congress or embarrassments for the White House," said Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) in a one-sentence comment.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), who earlier said committee hearings were unlikely before January, said yesterday that the committee will move "as rapidly as is prudent" and added: "I suspect we'll have a new Supreme Court justice, if all goes well, immediately upon the reconvening of the Senate after the first of the year."

Kennedy "seems on the surface like a mainstream conservative justice whom I can support," said Biden, who added that he would "withhold final judgment until I know a lot more about him."

In the Senate, Democratic liberals who opposed Bork and criticized Ginsburg appeared more favorable -- or at least less hostile -- to Kennedy. And some Republican conservatives who had frowned on Kennedy when he was a rival to Ginsburg indicated that the California jurist was now acceptable.

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) said he hoped to "be able to support his {Kennedy's} nomination with enthusiasm." But Helms said he will withhold judgment until he meets with Kennedy today and gets a "better understanding of certain positions he has taken" -- an apparent reference to his views on privacy rights that have upset some conservatives. Helms had said "No way, Jose" to Kennedy earlier.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who also had favored others over Kennedy, said, "There is much to commend him . . . . He appears to be a very, very good judge." Hatch expressed doubt that conservatives would oppose him. Sens. James A. McClure (Idaho), chairman of the conservative Republican Steering Committee in the Senate, and Strom Thurmond (S.C.), ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said they expect to support Kennedy.

Moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said Kennedy "looks good at first blush" and urged that hearings start within 30 days. Hatch said that "realistically" hearings would probably not be held until January.

On the liberal side, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said Kennedy appears to be experienced and not ideological, but said "the rules have changed unalterably on nominations," and Kennedy will be "scrutinized more thoroughly than any Supreme Court justice in the past."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who sharply criticized Bork and Ginsburg, said he was looking forward to meeting Judge Kennedy.

The coalition of liberal groups that waged the successful campaign against the Bork nomination urged more study of Kennedy's extensive record on the appeals court, but some groups appeared optimistic about the nomination.

"On the face of it he doesn't appear to be another Robert Bork and that's reassuring," said Art Kropp, executive director of People for the American Way, which launched a newspaper and television advertising drive to defeat Bork. "He doesn't appear to be wielding an ideological ax. He doesn't talk about reversing 30 years of law."

Others, however, expressed concerns about the nomination. "I am troubled by some of his opinions in the civil rights area," said Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice.

Conservative groups, meanwhile, expressed support. "We are pleased that Judge Kennedy has a general commitment to judicial restraint even though he has never taken a specific position on Roe v. Wade," the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion ruling, said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.