WASHINGTON — Anthony M. Kennedy opened his drive for confirmation to the Supreme Court today by declaring that he has no fixed views on abortion or limitations on privacy rights.
"There is a zone of liberty, of protection, where the individual can tell the government there is a line beyond which you cannot go," said Kennedy as he began testifying on the opening day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on his nomination to the court.
Kennedy, who now sits on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento, Calif., said the job of a judge is to determine where that line should be drawn.
He later denied published reports that he had signaled his views on abortion during a private conversation with conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).
'No Fixed View'
"If I had an undisclosed intention or a fixed view on a case, perhaps I might be obligated to disclose," Kennedy said. "I have no such fixed view on abortion or privacy."
Kennedy did not deny that he had told Helms he admired the senator's opposition to abortion. But the nominee said such a remark would not have been a signal of support for Helms' position.
"I was not trying to signal" any such view, Kennedy said. "I admire anyone with strong moral beliefs."
Kennedy added that he would not permit his private religious views to guide his decisions as a Supreme Court justice on controversial issues such as abortion.
"A man's relationship to his or her God may be important evidence of temperament and character," he said. "It is irrelevant to judicial authority."
Helms has said that he told Kennedy in a private, Nov. 12 conversation at the White House, "I think you know where I stand on abortion."
Helms said Kennedy smiled and answered, "Indeed I do and I admire it. I am a practicing Catholic." The senator, a staunch opponent of abortion, said Kennedy did not elaborate.
Meanwhile, conservative Judiciary Committee members urged Kennedy not to be "bullied or badgered" and to resist attempts by liberals on the panel to explore his judicial philosophy.
But the confirmation hearings opened with little tension. Indeed, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), the committee chairman, told Kennedy, "Everyone on the committee looks favorably on your nomination."
'Don't Be Bullied'
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) one of the panel's most conservative members, advised Kennedy, "Don't be bullied or badgered," adding that Kennedy should sharply limit his answers, refusing to disclose his philosophy on issues that might ultimately come to the Supreme Court for decision.
But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) told the nominee:
"I don't think anybody believes you can be badgered into anything. Just answer honestly and candidly and ignore any other advice."
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he was troubled by the nominee's rulings in civil rights cases and the fact he has been a member of private clubs that excluded minorities and women.
Model of Restraint
But conservatives hailed the nominee as a model of judicial restraint.
One liberal, Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) called the judge "a traditional conservative" in his approach to the law and added: "He would not be my ideal nominee; but the signs are that he is an acceptable nominee and that is all we can ask of the President."
Kennedy, 51, is President Reagan's third nominee to fill the seat left vacant by the June 26 retirement of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.
The first choice, Robert H. Bork, was rejected by the Senate 58 to 42. Reagan then selected Douglas H. Ginsburg, but he withdrew amid revelations that he smoked marijuana in the 1960s and '70s.