WASHINGTON — Judge William S. Sessions, President Reagan's nominee to head the FBI, described himself Wednesday as "a rule person" who believes in strict adherence to the law, striking an unexpected stance contrary to the Administration's on two sensitive law enforcement issues.
Testifying at a one-day confirmation hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he would not favor scrapping the Miranda rule on police questioning of suspects, which has been sharply criticized by Atty Gen. Edwin Meese III. Nor, he said, would he favor allowing the use of illegally seized evidence if police acted in good faith--an exception supported by the Administration.
In his first official appearance as the nominee, Sessions drew a warm reception from senators of both parties, with all indications that he will win the panel's unanimous backing when it votes Tuesday.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), characterizing the hearing as "the lull before the storm," contrasted it with the fireworks expected from the same committee's consideration next week of Judge Robert H. Bork, Reagan's controversial nominee to the Supreme Court.
Kennedy, an outspoken opponent of Bork, said the Sessions nomination shows that the Administration "knows how to choose a conservative for high office who has the broad respect and support of the Congress."
"Perhaps, when the Bork controversy is resolved, the Administration may wish that it had left Judge Bork on the Court of Appeals and nominated Judge Sessions for the Supreme Court," Kennedy said.
Sessions told Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), sponsor of Administration-backed legislation that would expand the admissibility of criminal evidence, that although he believes there is reason for "careful review" of the legal requirement that bans court use of any material obtained through an illegal police search, he favors the rule as it is. The Administration bill would allow use of evidence when police have a good-faith belief that the search is legal.
'It Protects Rights'
But, Sessions said of the current law: "As a judge, I know it's extremely important to fair play. By and large, I'm happy with it. It protects rights of citizens."
Sessions, drawing on his 13 years on the federal bench in Texas, also told Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the committee chairman, that he is "convinced the (Miranda) burden is an appropriate one. It does not badly damage the ability to investigate."
Under the Supreme Court's 1966 Miranda ruling, police must warn suspects of their right to remain silent and to be represented by an attorney. The rule has been attacked by Meese as interfering with the search for the truth, and Administration officials have said suspects' confessions should be admissible in some cases in which the Miranda rights were not first explained.
After the hearing, Sessions, who was nominated by Reagan after several other prospects turned down the FBI job, said he had not discussed his Miranda and search-and-seizure views with Meese or Reagan before his selection.
Pressure of Office
Sessions, who said he knows of "no single instance" in which politics influenced a decision he had made as a judge, said: "I know high office can bring high pressure."
Answering a question from Kennedy, Sessions also said he agreed with the pledge of his predecessor, CIA Director William H. Webster, to appeal to the Senate committee if an illegal order is pressed on him.
"I'm a rule person. I believe in rules," Sessions said. "I do not intend to resign or seek the shelter of resignation."
Sessions used the terse response, "without qualification--absolutely," to answer many senators who were seeking assurances that he would maintain independence as head of the FBI. But he did not adopt all positions pressed on him by questioners.
When asked by Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) about FBI officials' refusal to meet with pro-abortion groups on threats against them during the Pope's U.S. tour, Sessions responded: "Chances are I would say no to a meeting."
Metzenbaum contended that the response of the FBI--which has long maintained that abortion clinic bombings are under the jurisdiction of the Treasury Department's Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms unit--was "outrageous," but Sessions would not bend.