The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday unanimously approved the Supreme Court nomination of Anthony M. Kennedy, but not until it had engaged in some bitter recriminations over having rejected Judge Robert H. Bork.
Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said he would be willing to waive Senate rules to allow a floor vote on the nomination either Friday or Monday. The Senate vote is likely to be unanimous, or nearly so, in favor of the 51-year-old federal appeals judge.
Most of the 90-minute hearing focused not on Kennedy, but on the Senate's 58-to-42 vote Oct. 23 against Bork, President Reagan's first nominee for the seat vacated seven months ago by Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.
Democrats uniformly commended themselves for voting against Bork, saying he was too ideological and "outside the mainstream," and defended their five-day grilling of the appeals court judge and former law professor about his judicial philosophy.
They praised Kennedy, a 12-year appeals court judge from Sacramento, Calif., as a more centrist conservative who would not seek to overturn prior high court rulings.
But several Republicans angrily denounced the Bork hearings. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) accused the Democrats of engaging in "revisionist history offered up to justify what was little more than a political lynching."
The most colorful excoriation came from Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) who said Kennedy "was being ultra-careful in his testimony" because "the entrails of Robert Bork were still strewn across the floor" of the hearing room, and "still dangling from the chandeliers."
"I conclude Judge Kennedy didn't want his guts ripped out by senators on this committee . . . some of whom . . . wittingly or unwittingly, functioned as front men for the powerful lobbying groups opposed to Robert Bork" that had waged a "vicious political campaign" against Reagan's nominee, Humphrey said.
But Sen. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, one of the key moderate Democrats on the committee, called the accusations "hogwash."
"Judge Bork was not lynched," DeConcini said. "He just did not meet the standard set by a majority of this committee" for a high court nominee.
"He was on the extreme side of interpreting the Constitution." The committee process, DeConcini said, "worked, and it worked the way it was supposed to . . . . It just didn't work the way some people wanted it to work."
Sen. Howell T. Heflin (D-Ala.) a key Southern vote on the committee, agreed, as did Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) the only Republican on the committee to vote against Bork.
Specter, apparently so preoccupied with Bork that at one point he referred to Kennedy by that name, said the Bork hearings "will cast a long shadow over the nomination process" for years to come "and to the good."
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), said he did not think "we will ever revert back to a less rigorous" examination of the views of a nominee to the high court."
Leahy praised Kennedy as a "case-by-case judge" who, unlike Bork, has not been driven by a particular judicial philosophy and who "did not campaign for the Supreme Court based on the changes he would make" in court decisions involving a right to privacy, equal protection for women and other groups and the scope of First Amendment protections.
Committee liberals, such as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) said that, while they were troubled by some of Judge Kennedy's decisions on women's rights and civil rights and by his past memberships in three clubs that discriminated against women and minorities, that he appears to be open-minded and moderate.
Byrd's schedule for full Senate approval means that Kennedy, who was in his chambers yesterday in Sacramento, would likely be sworn in during the high court's current recess and be able to vote in the court's first scheduled conference on Feb. 19.