On paper, Robert Libman is an ideal candidate for a job with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division: an honors graduate of Stanford Law School with a longstanding interest in civil rights, and a former law clerk to a federal judge here. Not surprisingly, the department has offered him a job.

But there's a snag: Libman won't take a drug test.

"I find the . . . drug testing policy offensive to my personal dignity and an invasion of my personal privacy," Libman said in an affidavit filed in federal court this week. "I cannot in good conscience . . . begin my career at {the Justice Department} by surrendering to a requirement that I believe to be unconstitutional, unjust, and contrary to existing law."

The department's response: If Libman doesn't submit a urine sample by Monday, it will withdraw the job offer.

The standoff led to a hearing earlier this week in federal court, where U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson told the 27-year-old lawyer to submit to the drug test or find other work.

Libman and his attorneys have not yet decided whether to appeal Jackson's ruling, which is the latest chapter in a feud between Justice and some of its own lawyers.

In 1989, 38 lawyers with the department challenged a plan instituted when Edwin Meese III was attorney general to require random drug tests of key department employees.

They won a limited victory when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the department could require random drug tests only from employees with a Top Secret security clearance.

But the department instituted a requirement that all job applicants -- lawyers and non-lawyers alike -- submit a urine sample. "Our policy is to test all applicants unless we're enjoined by a court order," department spokesman Gina Talamona said. "We're trying to achieve a drug-free federal workplace, and we also are complying with an executive order."

But the policy on job applicants was held unconstitutional last May by U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell in a case involving a lawyer who applied for a job in the department's antitrust division.

The department has appealed the ruling.

In it, Gesell said the department had to suspect drug use before it required drug testing. A citizen's right not to submit to random searches, he wrote, is "basic to our freedom."

Jackson's ruling, issued late Thursday afternoon from the bench, took the opposite approach. Because Libman knew about the department's policy before he applied for a job, Jackson said, he could not assert a right to privacy.

The judge compared drug testing to having household trash searched at curbside by law enforcement agents, something the Supreme Court has said is legal.

Libman declined to comment yesterday on his case.