Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has urged President Bush not to fill any vacancy that might open up on the Supreme Court until after the November election.

Warning that any election-year nominee "would become a victim" of a "power struggle" over control of the Supreme Court, Biden said he would also urge the Senate not to hold hearings on a nomination if Bush decided to name someone.

In a two-hour interview on Wednesday in which he confessed to having regrets over last year's confrontation before his committee between Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and Prof. Anita F. Hill, Biden said his main concern was that he had not "attacked the attackers" of Hill "more frequently and consistently."

But he said he could not have acted differently toward Thomas without violating "the basic values embodied in our constitutional system."

"That's what makes me mad about the Republicans," Biden said. "What they do is they put you in a position on so many matters of principle that in order to fight with them and have a chance of winning, you have to either have the ability to go right above the issue, or you've got to do it the way they do it and disregard the rules."

Biden also called for greater consultation between the Senate and the president before an individual is named to the court, including compromise over the judicial and constitutional predispositions of a nominee. "That is the root, that is the base, that is the essence of it," Biden said. He added that if a nominee refused to answer questions about judicial philosophy, that alone should be grounds for a senator to oppose the nomination.

If a New High Court Vacancy Occurs . . .

The president, he said, should be prepared to compromise with the Senate not only on the identity of a nominee but also on the question of what judicial philosophy should be reflected on the court. "Unless the president is willing . . . to actually sit down with and compromise with the Senate beforehand, it is bound, guaranteed, that there will be a serious fight no matter who is sent," Biden said.

Biden said he had no knowledge of whether any member of the high court planned to resign this year and added that he hoped no one would. But if a vacancy occurred -- three of the justices are over 70 years old -- he warned that any nominee would face a harrowing experience.

"If someone steps down, I would highly recommend the president not name someone, not send a name up," Biden said. "If he {Bush} did send someone up, I would ask the Senate to seriously consider not having a hearing on that nominee."

"Can you imagine dropping a nominee, after the three or four or five decisions that are about to made by the Supreme Court, into that fight, into that cauldron in the middle of a presidential year?" Biden went on. "I believe there would be no bounds of propriety that would be honored by either side. . . . The environment within which such a hearing would be held would be so supercharged and so prone to be able to be distorted."

"Whomever the nominee was, good, bad or indifferent," he added, "would become a victim."

Biden said the Thomas-Hill confrontation was about more than the character of the two individuals involved and that the bitterness of last year's hearings grew out of a battle over control of the court.

"That last hearing was not about Clarence Thomas, it was not about Anita Hill," Biden said. "It was about a massive power struggle going on in this country, a power struggle between women and men, and a power struggle between minorities and the majority, and it's a reflection of the schizophrenic personality of the American public now with regard to both those issues, feminism and race."

Biden also warned that judicial conservatives associated with the "law and economics" school of jurisprudence were trying to use the court to limit Congress's ability to legislate on matters ranging from the environment to labor law. He said that this "fundamental" issue of jurisprudence was often underplayed in judicial hearings because the issue of abortion aroused such passionate feelings on both sides and tended to dominate judicial discussions.

Sensitive to criticism of his committee's handling of the Thomas-Hill controversy, Biden insisted that "there is nothing that we could have further have investigated that would have enlightened us any more than we already knew."

Biden conceded that the committee might have halted the hearings to investigate whether there was a "pattern of behavior" on Thomas's part that would have shed light on Hill's charges of sexual harassment. But he said Republicans on the Judiciary Committee opposed a postponement, and that had the hearings been stopped, the committee would have faced other problems.

"Had we announced we were holding up this hearing, in fairness to the nominee -- who I don't think warranted a lot of fairness in retrospect, in terms of their {Republicans'} activities and actions -- in fairness to their positions, he would have been cannibalized."

A postponement, Biden said, would have unleashed a flood of rumors against Thomas. "We did check out what were patterns of behavior," he said.

"It is also impossible to conduct in that circumstance, at that point in the development of a nomination, an investigation relating to the character of an individual, with any remote hope of providing that person with some semblance of due process, some semblance of a fair chance to respond," Biden said.

If He Had to Do Thomas Hearing Over . . .

Asked if he regretted that Democrats had not been more aggressive, Biden replied: "In my gut I regret it, in my intellect I don't. Because it would have made a lie of everything I say I believe."

"For example, I could have brought in the pornography stuff," he went on, referring to assertions that Thomas had watched pornographic films. "I could have decimated him with that. I could have raised -- and with more legitimacy than what they {the Republicans} were doing -- but it would make a lie of everything I fought for. . . . To go back and say because the guy was 20 years old and he watched pornography at Yale, that that means that there's a nexis between that and whether or not he spoke of pornography 20 years later? It's outrageous. But compelling."

Biden said the battle for control of the court had become so bitter that liberals and conservatives seemed prepared to use any means necessary to win confirmation battles.

"Both sides are so self-righteous that it truly is the ends justify the means," Biden said.

"I do not regret at all not having used the same tactics," Biden said.

Referring to the Republicans' treatment of Hill, Biden said: "If {there's} any place that I've made a mistake from my perspective -- you asked what I regret -- I regret not having attacked the attackers more frequently and consistently . . . . If anything, I think I erred in not attacking the attackers, not in turning their method on him."