WASHINGTON — President Reagan today nominated conservative 41-year-old appeals court Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, risking another bitter Senate confirmation battle like the one that ended in stunning defeat for Robert H. Bork.
Ginsburg, a surprise choice given his youth and only one year's experience as a judge, was the favorite of Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, for whom he worked in the Justice Department.
Reagan praised Ginsburg as "a believer in judicial restraint," and he demanded that the Democratic-controlled Senate begin confirmation hearings within three weeks.
If the hearings don't begin by then, Reagan said, "the American people will know what's up."
Stresses Prompt Hearings
He called for hearings that are "fair, dispassionate and, above all, prompt."
Reagan said Ginsburg would take a "tough, clear-eyed view" in dealing with criminal cases.
Ginsburg, a former Harvard Law School professor and head of the Justice Department antitrust division, stood at Reagan's side in the White House East Room while his appointment was announced. He has been a colleague of Bork on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington for about a year.
In making his selection, Reagan chose the more conservative of the two men reported to be finalists for the post, thus risking another contentious nomination fight.
Californian Passed Over
The President bypassed a more senior appeals judge, Anthony Kennedy of Sacramento, to pluck the young conservative, who once clerked for liberal Justice Thurgood Marshall. That Kennedy would be the choice had been widely rumored most of the day, and his wife had told reporters Kennedy had flown to Washington.
Conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-S.C.) called the White House at mid-morning and threatened to lead a filibuster to derail a Kennedy nomination, CBS reported.
Ginsburg was strongly supported by top officials in the Justice Department for the vacancy after the defeat of Bork, department officials said.
"We know him," one official said. "We don't know Kennedy." But others had said Meese's long association with Kennedy was a plus for the federal appeals court judge.
Bork Similarity Seen
Some Senate Democrats said in advance they regarded the bearded Ginsburg as a conservative ideologue in the mold of Bork.
And Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) commenting immediately after the announcement, noted Ginsburg's youth and said the fact that he could serve for decades would "guarantee close scrutiny."
A similar comment came from Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), who said: "A man who's 41 years old has at least 30 years to go. That's a long legacy after you leave office."
Only one other justice, the late William O. Douglas, won confirmation at an earlier age. He was 40.
Unknown to Many
Bentsen also said, "I know absolutely nothing about Judge Ginsburg," a comment that was echoed by other senators.
People for the American Way, a liberal lobbying group that campaigned against Bork, said that the judicial record of Reagan's new nominee "is a virtual blank page" and that Ginsburg's chief qualification "appears to be his adherence to a narrow ideological agenda."
There also were indications that the nomination might not sit well with some GOP senators. Bork's nomination was doomed when Southern Democrats and half a dozen Republican moderates opposed him.
Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas said that he wanted to await the hearings, but "based on what I know I'm prepared to support Judge Ginsburg."
'One of the Brightest'
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), one of Bork's staunchest defenders on the Judiciary Committee, said Ginsburg is "not only qualified, he's one of the brightest legal minds in the country; I couldn't be more elated."
"I've got an open mind," said Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), who was a key swing vote against Bork on the Judiciary Committee. "I would hope my colleagues in both parties would refrain from opposing or supporting him" until hearings can be held, he said.
On Monday, White House Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr. sounded out five key Republican senators about 13 or 14 potential nominees. According to Republican sources, half of those named drew at least some opposition--and Ginsburg was among those who were objected to.
Ginsburg, who would be the high court's first Jewish justice since Abe Fortas resigned in 1969, was Meese's choice, while Baker and most of the White House staff were urging the appointment of Kennedy, a less controversial choice.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) reportedly has told Administration officials that some of Ginsburg's views are highly controversial.
Ginsburg would replace Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., a key swing vote on a court that is deeply divided on social issues.
Reagan's first attempt to replace Powell ended in failure, when Bork was rejected on a 58-42 vote last Friday after a tumultuous, three-month confirmation battle.