The Justice Department yesterday assailed studies critical of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork as "illegitimate and unwarranted" attacks that "seek to characterize a distinguished and fair-minded jurist as biased and close-minded" and "should be dismissed for the propaganda that they are."

A 213-page Justice Department report said studies by the Public Citizen Litigation Group, the American Civil Liberties Union, Senate Judiciary Committee consultants and others are flawed by "an arbitrary and misleading methodology, highly selective use of evidence and a distressing tendency towards inflammatory mischaracterization."

Applying "the spurious techniques employed by the reports" to the record of retired justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., who Bork has been nominated to replace, "even Justice Powell's distinguished and fair-minded record on the Supreme Court can be manipulated and misprepresented as 'extreme,' " the study said.

For example, it said, in cases where the justices were not unanimous, Powell voted against civil rights plaintiffs in 79 percent of the cases and for business interests in 78 percent of the cases during the past five years.

"Regrettably, the sum total of these interest groups' criticism is simply that Judge Bork has failed to 'deliver the goods' to them on a sufficiently uniform basis because he has committed the cardinal sin of neutrally discerning and applying the laws," said the study, which also criticized reports by the National Women's Law Center, the AFL-CIO and members of the Columbia Law Review.

The Justice Department report is the latest round in the battle of reports championing and attacking the 60-year-old jurist, whose Senate confirmation hearings begin Tuesday.

William B. Schultz, an author of the Public Citizen study, defended his findings, which accused Bork of failing to practice his own philosophy of judicial restraint.

"My experience is when lawyers get this strident it's because they have a problem," Schultz said. He said it was "totally impossible to assess" the accuracy of the Justice Department's review of Powell's record, but that even assuming its accuracy, "it does not show Justice Powell to be as extreme" as Bork.

"The striking thing about Judge Bork was that his votes were so consistently predictable based on the parties" in the case, Schultz said.

Other Bork opponents also atttacked the Justice Department study. Art Kropp, executive director of People for the American Way, which is to release its Bork study Monday, called the report "nothing more than a shabby last-ditch effort to whitewash the many serious problems in Bork's record.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a leading Bork opponnent on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called it "a White House whitewash of Bork's reactionary record."

The Justice Department report appeared to differ slightly in emphasis from an earlier White House briefing book portaying Bork, who has been characterized by opponents as a ideological extremist, as a "mainstream" jurist.

The Justice study repeated the description of Bork as a "fair, mainstream judge" but also offered an extensive defense of some of Bork's more controversial opinions.

For example, the report described Bork's views that the First Amendment does not protect speech advocating illegal actions.

"In short, Judge Bork does not believe that the First Amendment protects those groups -- the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis or Weathermen -- who would supplant our constitutional democracy with a pernicious form of totalitarian rule," the report said. It said the same principles would apply to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., adding that "while the nobility of the cause advanced by Dr. King can be doubted by none . . . {one} whose oratory inspired many courageous people to break laws that they believed were unjust, would not have been shielded by the First Amendment when he incited lawlessness."

Discussing Bork's criticism of the Supreme Court's 1964 one-man, one-vote ruling, the report said the rule, "if logicallly applied, would invalidate the United States Senate . . . . This logical incoherence casts doubt on the court's rigid doctrine and illustrates that the principle is neither a prerequisite to fair democratic procedures nor supported by the history, structure or text of the Constitution."