WASHINGTON — President Reagan, charging in a televised address that the confirmation process of Supreme Court nominee Judge Robert H. Bork became "an ugly spectacle . . . casting aside normal rules of decency and honesty," urged Americans Wednesday to protest to their senators to preserve an independent judiciary.
Reagan unleashed some of his most stinging condemnations yet of Bork's opponents in his address, which followed weeks of pleas from Bork supporters that he speak on television to champion the nominee. But the long-expected call-to-arms came only after the nomination appears doomed and was further marred by the refusal of the three major television networks to broadcast it live.
In a desk-pounding response for the Democrats, Sen. Terry Sanford of North Carolina declared that it was "slanderous" to suggest that the Republican senators who also opposed Bork "have been swayed by anything but conscientious intellect," and added that senators "are tired of having our integrity impugned . . . our intelligence insulted."
The speeches of both Reagan and Sanford were broadcast by Cable News Network. The sharp exchange, despite Bork's call for a lower volume in the debate, appeared to foreshadow a prolonged, high-decibel battle over filling the Supreme Court vacancy. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders remained at odds over when to begin debate and to schedule a Senate vote on Bork. Democrats pressed for a quick timetable, while the Republicans insisted on putting off a vote until next Thursday or Friday so they would have time to fully vent their views.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), the majority leader, asked in a floor speech whether the Republicans "want an issue or do they want a judgeship?" Byrd warned that delay could hold up filling the vacancy on the high court, whose current eight members face the prospect of tie votes that could leave issues unresolved.
Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), the minority leader, insisted that the Republicans are not delaying and said Bork himself has told him he hopes for a vote next week.
"There are a number of people preparing information that should be used--high-level information, not a personal assault on anybody in the Senate--and that information is not yet available," Dole said.
As Bork's supporters prepared their speeches decrying the treatment of the nominee, the Senate Judiciary Committee completed its report on hearings that culminated last week with a 9-5 vote recommending Bork's rejection.
'A Risk of Disservice'
The majority members' section, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, said that "positions adopted by Judge Bork at critical moments of decision bespeak a perilous inclination for one who would guide our nation's future."
"Judge Bork's confined vision of the Constitution and of the task of judging itself carries too great a risk of disservice to future national needs and distortion of age-old constitutional commitments to permit his confirmation," the majority concluded.
A copy of the minority report was not immediately available. Both are scheduled for release today.
Reagan, in his speech lambasting Bork's critics, changed course somewhat by suggesting that Bork's confirmation still might be salvaged. Only Tuesday, he had conceded that he no longer had any "illusions" about it.
Without noting that 54 senators have committed themselves to voting against Bork, Reagan said: "Honorable men and women should not be afraid to change their minds based on that (Senate) debate. I hope that in the days and weeks ahead you will let them know that the confirmation process must never again be compromised with high-pressure politics."
Reagan, zeroing in on criticism of Bork's views on civil rights and privacy, declared that if the "campaign of distortion and disinformation used by opponents of this nominee is allowed to succeed, it will represent more than a temporary setback for one candidate or the Administration. It will permanently diminish the sum total of American democracy.
"It will call into question the idea of free, fair and civil exchange, and it will mean that on critical issues like the fight against crime and drugs and keeping those who are unelected from unconstitutionally taking power into their own hands, each of us and each of our children will be the losers."
Sanford, who is not known for verbal counterpunching, charged that Reagan himself had brought politics to the Supreme Court nomination during the 1986 election campaign when he appeared in North Carolina, where Sanford was making his first Senate bid. He said Reagan stated that Democrats would "allow drugs, thugs and hoodlums to pervade society by placing a bunch of sociology majors on the bench."