President Reagan yesterday nominated conservative appeals Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, a choice that White House officials acknowledged is likely to touch off another bitter confirmation battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Administration officials said that Reagan chose Ginsburg, a 41-year-old former deputy assistant attorney general who has been on the appeals court here for less than a year, after a strongly favorable recommendation from Attorney General Edwin Meese III and despite warnings from White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. that he is likely to face confirmation difficulties.

Reagan announced Ginsburg's selection to an audience of administration officials and conservative supporters in the East Room, saying that Ginsburg shared his view "that the courts must administer fair and firm justice while remembering not just the rights of criminals but . . . the rights of the victims of crime and the rights of society."

The nomination of Ginsburg surprised senators, many of whom know little of him or his record and had expected the president to select Anthony M. Kennedy, 51, a more moderate appeals court judge from Sacramento. Conservatives cheered the choice, while liberals were critical or noncommittal.

Judge Robert H. Bork, Reagan's previous nominee to the court, was rejected on a 58-to-42 vote, and Reagan promised in an angry Oct. 13 speech to New Jersey Republicans that he would find another high court nominee "they'll object to as much as they did to this one." Based on the response of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a leader in the fight against Bork, the president may have succeeded in this objective.

"What is most ominous about the nomination at this stage is the suggestion that Ed Meese prevailed upon the president, with little consideration, to name an ideological clone of Judge Bork -- a Judge Bork without a paper trail -- instead of a real conservative who would have broad support in the Senate," Kennedy said. ". . . If his philosophy is as extreme as Bork, I will do all I can to see that the nomination is not confirmed."

But Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey (R-N.H.) said that "conservatives are delighted the president is hanging tough." And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said that "conservatives should be happy" because Ginsburg "is a believer in judicial restraint."

However, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), while saying he would support Ginsburg "based on what I know," anticipated opposition and made no predictions of confirmation. Bruce Fein, a legal scholar with the Heritage Foundation who had strongly backed Bork, said that "the White House has played into the hand of the liberals" with the nomination and said the outcome was "very dicey."

Fein pointed out that Ginsburg had received only a recommendation of "qualified," the lowest of three acceptable ratings from the American Bar Association, when he was nominated to the federal appeals court 11 months ago. He said he expected the Judiciary Committee to rely heavily on whatever recommendation the ABA makes now, and that the lobbying of the bar association by both sides will be "ferocious."

Vice President Bush, asked whether he will be more involved in this confirmation battle than he was with Bork's, said, "If it gets to be 50-50, I will do my part."

Ginsburg, who would become the second-youngest Supreme Court justice in this century if confirmed, emerged Tuesday as the choice of administration conservatives as a list that once contained 13 names was narrowed to three finalists. Also on the list were Kennedy and federal appeals court judge William W. Wilkins Jr. of South Carolina, who had few supporters at either the White House or the Justice Department but was strongly pushed by Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

The three prospective nominees were interviewed separately at the Justice Department on Tuesday night by a team that included Meese, Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, Baker, White House deputy chief of staff Kenneth M. Duberstein and White House counsel A.B. Culvahouse.

While no opinions were expressed during the interviews, sources said that Ginsburg was favored by Meese and Reynolds while Kennedy was preferred by the three White House officials, who thought he was more experienced and would be confirmed more easily.

"The White House view was highly pragmatic," said one official familiar with these discussions. "We are facing a number of critical decisions on different issues, and we don't need another battle with the Senate. Also, we'd been told that Ginsburg could face some problems."

At 9:30 a.m. yesterday Baker and Meese met privately with Reagan and presented him with the results of the interviews of Ginsburg, Kennedy and Wilkins. White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that Reagan had received information about the judicial opinions of these and other nominees and personally knew Kennedy from Sacramento and Ginsburg when he had served as administrator of regulatory affairs in the Office of Management and Budget.

According to accounts of several officials, Meese and Baker both said that all three of the finalists were acceptable choices and that Reagan quickly decided on Ginsburg in a meeting that lasted less than 20 minutes.

But accounts differ on the presentation that occurred in the meeting. Meese said that he and Baker presented the results of the Tuesday interviews, discussed different questions about the nominees "and the president made the choice."

Baker, whose recommendations have often been overridden since he became chief of staff early this year, did not comment. However, one aide said that he was "certain that Senator Baker made the points about confirmability problems {of Ginsburg} but that he doesn't try to force his views upon the president." This official said that Meese contended that Ginsburg was confirmable.

White House officials have no illusions that the confirmation battle will be either quick or easy, and suggested that the Justice Department will take the lead role in the confirmation battle.

The seat, vacant since Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. resigned last June, is a pivotal one because the court is closely divided on many important social, economic and criminal justice issues. Powell, in many instances, was a key swing vote.

In his remarks yesterday the president emphasized the strategy that the administration intends to follow -- portraying Ginsburg as a champion of judicial decisions that protect victims of crime and arguing that the nation deserves a full Supreme Court. Reagan said that the Senate "has a duty . . . just as I do" to move swiftly in the confirmation process, but Senate sources said that floor action on the Ginsburg nomination is unlikely this year.

"Much has been said about my agenda for the courts," Reagan said. "I want courts that protect the rights of all citizens. No one has rights when criminals are allowed to prey on society. Judge Ginsburg understands that. And that's why I'm nominating him."

Meanwhile, the coalition of groups that led the successful battle against Bork scrambled to learn more about Ginsburg and prepared to engage in another confirmation fight.

"Three months ago Ronald Reagan argued that a long resume was a sufficient qualification to serve on our nation's highest court," said Arthur Kropp, executive director of People for the American Way. "That same president is now offering a nominee whose record on the bench is a virtual blank page and whose chief qualification appears to be his adherence to a narrow ideological agenda."

"If Judge Ginsburg is what he seems to be, the battle's been joined again," said Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice.