CHICAGO, AUG. 7 -- Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens today expressed serious doubt that the Senate confirmation process can provide clues about how any Supreme Court nominee will vote on specific cases.

In a speech to the American Bar Association here, Stevens never mentioned David H. Souter, President Bush's nominee to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice William J. Brennan Jr. But Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have promised an exhaustive effort to determine Souter's judicial philosophy.

Activists on both sides of the abortion debate have been combing Souter's record to learn his views on abortion and pressing the Judiciary Committee to seek out those views.

"I think it's a mistake to assume that this {confirmation} process is going to enable the senators or the other members of the court or the bar generally to predict how a nominee will vote after he or she actually comes on the court," Stevens said.

Stevens cited the appointment of Chief Justice Warren Burger by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969 and the talk at the time "about the Nixon court."

Burger, however, wrote opinions upholding school busing and minority set-asides, and he was one of three Nixon appointees to the court to join the 7 to 2 majority in Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

Stevens said that Burger "led the Supreme Court in the unanimous decision" requiring Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes "establishing in a very important way the independence of the federal judiciary."

These and other Burger opinions, Stevens said, "show how hard it would have been to predict what one might expect from a Nixon appointee."

Stevens, who was nominated by President Gerald R. Ford, stopped short of asserting that the Senate should not ask certain questions. But he said the public "really wouldn't want a judge who would say in advance how he or she would vote on particluar issues, because there would be an appearance of impropriety there."

"You would suspect that the position was being taken for the purpose of obtaining the office. . . . That's not part of an independent judiciary," Stevens said.

Turning to the court's controversial 5 to 4 ruling rejecting laws against flag burning, Stevens, a vociferous member of the minority, said that the court should not have taken the flag-burning cases this year and last.

"Had we allowed the state {Texas} court judgment to stand," he said, "an awful lot of ink . . . and a lot of heartache would have been saved."