WASHINGTON — On the eve of Senate consideration of his Supreme Court nomination, Robert H. Bork has told friends he is dismayed that acrimonious charges may drown out the "lowered voices" he has urged for the debate.
Senators who support him and those who oppose him previewed arguments Tuesday that they intend to press in the debate, and their tone suggests that this "is going to be an ugly spectacle," one senior Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee aide said. "This thing is out of control," a top Republican strategist said.
Both sides predicted that the debate, expected to start this week, may spill into next week before a vote is held.
With Bork's defeat virtually sealed with the commitments of 54 senators to vote against him, angry supporters on Tuesday expressed their resolve to bitterly denounce the opposition campaign that helped brand the nominee as a conservative extremist. In addition, they remain intent on criticizing the Reagan Administration's handling of the confirmation fight.
At the same time, in interviews and speeches, Bork opponents indicated their eagerness to fight back during the debate with charges of partisan political maneuvering.
When he announced 12 days ago that he would not withdraw his nomination, Bork, while decrying the sophisticated campaign tactics employed against him, said he hoped that the full Senate debate could be a dignified process that would concentrate on constitutional issues.
Heated Exchanges Likely
Friends said Tuesday he is disturbed that, instead, it appears that continued heated exchanges will be dominant.
Bork, through friends, recently asked one leader of the conservative effort, Washington lawyer Leonard Garment, to tone down Garment's allegations that Bork opponents tried to intimidate potential pro-Bork witnesses who were scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination. However, Garment and conservative senators continued to raise those charges Tuesday, and Bork opponents responded with accusations that conservative groups are using Bork as "a pawn" in fund-raising efforts.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a Bork supporter, renewed charges against the White House, declaring: "I don't think the White House is very helpful in the current process." Hatch, among those who have complained that the White House's early support of Bork was not aggressive enough, said the President's aides are now too preoccupied with choosing a nominee to replace Bork.
"If they don't make this a matter of principle," he said, referring to the mission to restore Bork's reputation, "one has to question whether principle is a main ingredient at the White House."
A senior White House official, speaking on condition that he not be named, responded: "I laid out the matter of principle last week and got trashed by the right wing. The battle is being fought. The points are being made."
Administration officials confirm privately that they fear a lengthy debate on Bork could cause enough delay to kill chances for confirmation of another nominee this year. However, conservatives believe they can use the Senate's televised debate on Bork to rally their supporters and feel they have little to lose.
Regardless of the length of the debate, Democrats who control the Senate "are not going to be honorable" about allowing any nominee through this year, Hatch said.
PAC Campaign Denounced
The tactics of conservative groups have given Bork opponents in the Senate an issue to counter Administration charges that "special interests" led the anti-Bork campaign. Several senators Tuesday denounced the computerized telephone marketing campaign that the National Conservative Political Action Committee started last week. The campaign, designed to make more than 2 million calls in 18 states, includes a tape of President Reagan praising Bork and a pitch for funds to benefit the conservative lobbying organization.
"I will go to my grave feeling Judge Bork has been used. He is a pawn," said Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.). NCPAC is "an organization that desperately needs financial resources at this particular moment," he said, referring to the organization's well-publicized recent financial difficulties.
The PAC's honorary co-chairman, Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N. H.), defended the campaign, saying it would not have been necessary had "the Republican Party gotten off its big, fat capitalistic fanny to help Judge Bork."
Humphrey called for an independent investigation of charges that Linda Greene, an aide to Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), called a black law professor who had been scheduled as a pro-Bork witness to dissuade him from testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The professor, John T. Baker, has written a letter to committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) denying that Greene's call caused his decision not to testify.
In addition to the Baker incident, Humphrey, Hatch and other pro-Bork senators say that Bork opponents tried to discourage Jewel LaFontant, a black lawyer who once worked with Bork, from speaking out for him. She did testify in his favor. LaFontant could not be reached for comment on the charge.
Staff writer James Gerstenzang contributed to this story.