WASHINGTON — President Reagan, stung by two failed efforts to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, ran into new trouble today when conservatives signaled their opposition to a possible compromise candidate, U.S. Judge Anthony Kennedy.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said he was concerned that Kennedy, an appeals court judge from California, would not uphold Reagan's conservative positions.
He also said he was concerned that Reagan opponents might be able to find some unsavory episode from Kennedy's past.
"My problem with Kennedy is he was a lobbyist in California," Hatch, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said.
"They (the White House) think they had problems with Ginsburg--I wonder what they're going to have with Kennedy," Hatch said on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."
Kennedy was in his second year with a major San Francisco law firm when his father died in 1963. He returned home and took over his father's law practice and some of his lobbying clients, including distillers and opticians. He said later that he had handled lobbying "as a legal matter."
And, Hatch said, "Judge Kennedy has waffled on a number of issues."
Hatch said White House aides should back conservative nominees rather than compromise with moderates in an effort to win more votes from Democrats.
"And they're not doing it," Hatch said, his voice rising. "They're not doing it, and I'm getting mad about it and so are a lot of other conservatives."
Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg withdrew his nomination on Saturday after sparking controversy with an admission that he had smoked marijuana several times in the 1960s and 1970s.
Reagan's first nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy, federal appeals court judge Robert H. Bork, was rejected overwhelmingly by the Senate.
Reagan said today that harassment from outside rather than inside the Administration forced Ginsburg to withdraw.
"I stood by and declared I would not withdraw him. He voluntarily made that decision on his own," Reagan said. The President spoke to reporters during a tour of a United Way building in nearby Alexandria, Va.
Story a 'Distortion'
Asked about reports that Ginsburg's withdrawal had been prompted by a telephone call from Education Secretary William Bennett, acting with Reagan's blessing, Reagan said: "All of that was a distortion, the way that story was told."
Bennett's press secretary, Loye Miller, told news organizations Friday night that Bennett had called Ginsburg and urged him to withdraw. Miller said that Bennett had cleared his call with Reagan and that the President had acquiesced.
Hatch angrily accused unspecified White House aides of undermining Reagan's nomination of Ginsburg from the start and said those aides should be fired.
"When you have people undermining the President right off the bat, then my gosh I think the President ought to get rid of some of those people and revamp his staff down there and get some people who stand up for what he believes," Hatch said.
Asked if he was talking about presidential Chief of Staff Howard H. Baker Jr., who Administration sources said favored Kennedy over Ginsburg, Hatch said he would not name names.
As for Kennedy, Fitzwater said today, "I think it's fair to say he is the leading candidate."
Others reportedly under consideration are former Sen. James Buckley of New York and Edith Jones, a federal judge in Texas.