The Bork Controversy / Justice Stevens in Public Remarks Praises Bork's Qualifications

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - Justice John Paul Stevens has entered the fray in support of Judge Robert H. Bork, the nominee to the Supreme Court, in unusual public remarks praising his qualifications and implicitly rejecting the portrait of a rigid, right-wing ideologue painted by some opponents of the nomination.

In a little-noted public speech in Colorado two weeks ago, Stevens likened Bork's constitutional philosophy as expressed in one 1984 opinion to that of himself and two other moderate centrists on the court, Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who retired June 26, and Justice Potter Stewart, who retired in 1981 and has since died.

``I personally regard him as a very well-qualified candidate and one who will be a very welcome addition to the court,'' Stevens said of Bork. ``There are many, many reasons that lead me to that conclusion.''

Stevens' remarks could be helpful to Bork supporters, both because it is quite unusual for Supreme Court justices to speak out publicly on nominations and because of Stevens' reputation as a centrist who has voted with the court's liberals on such issues as abortion, affirmative action and separation of church and state.

While he did not directly challenge the widespread view that Bork would shift the court's ideological balance sharply to the right, Stevens' remarks strongly suggested that Bork was in the legal mainstream, at least on ome issues.

Stevens made his statements publicly in a speech to the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference, a meeting of federal judges from several states, in Colorado Springs on July 17.

A transcript based on a tape recording was provided to The New York Times Friday by a Bork supporter who insisted on anonymity. The Stevens remarks had previously been reported by The Omaha World-Herald and The Minneapolis Star and Tribune but did not receive national attention. …