Supreme Court nominee Anthony M. Kennedy, criticized for his membership in private clubs that discriminate against women and minorities, has told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he resigned from two such clubs because he objected to their admissions practices.

In a Judiciary Committee questionnaire released yesterday, Kennedy said he resigned from one club in 1980 because of its discriminatory policies and had begun last summer to urge the all-male Olympic Club in San Francisco to loosen its membership restrictions on women and minorities. He resigned from the club Oct. 27, the day the Justice Department asked him to come to Washington to discuss the possibility of the Supreme Court nomination.

Last month the National Organization for Women branded Kennedy a "sexist" unqualified to sit on the bench. The group's opposition was based in part on his membership in the Olympic Club.

NOW President Molly Yard said yesterday that Kennedy's efforts were "too late" after 25 years' membership in the Olympic Club. "In my opinion, anybody who joins a club which denies membership to women or minorities is joining a club which is sexist or racist . . . . They {don't} have the right to aspire to the most important judicial position in this land."

Kennedy, a federal appellate judge from Sacramento, Calif., acknowledged to the committee that discrimination by private clubs can cause "real harm," even though it may not be "the result of ill will."

"I recognize . . . that real harm can result from membership exclusion regardless of its purported justification," he said. "Therefore, I have supported efforts to broaden the membership of clubs to which I have belonged as a circuit judge and have resigned when those efforts have appeared to be unlikely to succeed."

He told the committee that during his 12 years on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he employed 35 law clerks, including five women and one Asian, but no blacks.

In response to committee questions about his judicial philosophy, Kennedy complained about judges who become active policymakers and allow their personal biases to be reflected in their rulings. But he also said that while courts should not overreach, "compassion, warmth, sensitivity, and an unyielding insistence on justice are the attributes of every good judge."

Kennedy, whose confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Dec. 14, said, "It is a fact . . . not a perception, that courts have become more active in the public dialogue and in policymaking than at any other time in our constitutional history."

"This expanded role of the courts tends to erode the boundaries of judicial power and also threatens to permit the individual biases of the judge to operate," he said. "Life tenure is in part a constitutional mandate to the federal judiciary to proceed with caution, to avoid reaching issues not necessary to the resolution of the suit at hand, and to defer to the political process."

On the issue of private clubs, Kennedy said he worked last summer to persuade the Olympic Club to overturn its policies on women and minorities.

"When I joined the Olympic Club in 1962, its bylaws restricted membership to 'white males.' In the late 1960s the club revised its bylaws to eliminate the restriction on minority members. Full membership continues to be limited to men . . . " Kennedy said in the questionnaire, adding that "approximately 1,000 women had privileges at the club based on their husband's membership."

In a letter Aug. 7 to the chairman of the club's legal committee, Kennedy said, "Any arguments based on the club's legal position are really beside the point. The fact is that constitutional and public morality make race or sex distinctions unacceptable for membership in a club that occupies the position that The Olympic Club does." Kennedy said the club's membership in early October voted down the bylaw changes that he had supported, and he decided to resign.

Kennedy said he resigned from the Sutter Club in 1980 because of his concerns about the exclusion of women as members. He added that the Del Paso Country Club did not have a policy of discriminating, even though few women or minorities are members there. Kennedy said he resigned from the club last Oct. 22 "in order to prevent my membership from becoming an issue."

He also resigned in 1978 from a Sacramento Elks Lodge chapter that does not allow female members.