WASHINGTON — In an attempt to find a Supreme Court nominee who is conservative but able to win confirmation, Reagan Administration officials will begin consulting today with key senators about a list of potential candidates.
In contrast with the procedure used when Robert H. Bork was nominated, Administration officials insist that this time no firm decision on a nominee will be made until the consultation process is complete, probably late Tuesday. A final announcement of a nominee is not expected before Wednesday.
Over the weekend at his Camp David, Md., retreat, President Reagan reviewed a list of 12 to 15 names, a senior White House official said Sunday. With that initial review now complete, "there's not a short list, but some are more viable than others," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous.
Two Californians on List
Among the candidates who now appear to be the most viable are two Californians--federal appeals court judges Anthony M. Kennedy of Sacramento and J. Clifford Wallace of San Diego. White House and Justice Department officials over the weekend called associates of both men to gather background information on them.
Several senior Justice Department officials began their careers as clerks to Kennedy, 51, who was appointed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975. In addition, he has close ties to many in the Reagan circle from his years spent as a lawyer and lobbyist in Sacramento for distillers and optometrists, among others, before going on the bench. Although he has solid conservative credentials, his name has not yet sparked opposition from the groups that opposed Bork.
Wallace, by contrast, could be controversial because of past statements appearing to advocate a less-strict separation of church and state. President Richard M. Nixon appointed the 58-year-old judge to the federal District Court in San Diego in 1970 and then to the 9th Circuit in 1972. If nominated and confirmed, he would be the first Mormon ever chosen for the high court.
Candidate Loses Ground
Another appeals court judge, Pasco M. Bowman II of Kansas City, who had been under serious consideration, appears to have lost ground during the weekend because of the Administration's current emphasis on finding a nominee who can be confirmed without another lengthy fight.
Before becoming a judge, Bowman served as dean of the law school at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N. C., which he left after a sharp dispute involving an allegedly anti-union labor-law institute he established at the school. Bowman is a political protege of North Carolina's conservative Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, who is himself controversial.
Two other possible candidates about whom background calls were made over the weekend are federal appeals court judges Ralph K. Winter Jr. of New Haven, Conn., and Laurence Silberman of Washington.
Winter, like Bork, was a conservative professor at Yale Law School specializing in antitrust law before becoming a judge. His writings, however, are less controversial than Bork's, and he has a more moderate image.
Silberman has had a series of government jobs, including stints as the top legal official of the Department of Labor and as deputy attorney general, both under the Nixon Administration. One potentially serious problem for his chances of gaining the nomination is a reputation for having an explosive temper, Administration sources said.
Staff writers James Gerstenzang and Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.