A black lawyer friend of Judge David Souter on Wednesday assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Supreme Court nominee was sensitive to the plight of minorities.

"I think he is fundamentally fair, lacking in prejudice," said Wesley Williams Jr., a Washington attorney whose friendship with Souter extends back to their days at Harvard College and Harvard Law School.During his three days of testimony, Souter had portrayed his home state of New Hampshire as free from discrimination. The statements generated concern from some panel members and criticism from other witnesses.

"This is an insensitive man that you are foisting upon us," complained Joseph Rauh, general counsel to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, who pointed to examples of racism in the state.

But Williams said Wednesday that "David Souter understands. He has lived in the world" and seen the trouble in the minority community. "I think he's prepared to do the right thing," he said.

Williams' testimony, like that of the nominee himself, appeared aimed at calming liberals who fear Souter will swing the court's majority firmly to the right. But while reassuring the liberals, the testimony has aroused doubts among conservatives.

"The concern is that Judge Souter is a man of empty philosophy . . . all things to all people," Bruce Fein, a conservative court analyst, said Tuesday.

Howard Phillips, chairman of the Conservative Caucus, said in prepared testimony that Souter "lacked moral courage" because he didn't declare himself against abortion at the hearing or years earlier when he sat on a hospital board that voted to permit abortions at its facility.