Former senator Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), who as the sixth-ranking member of the Judiciary Committee knocked out two of Richard M. Nixon's Supreme Court nominees in a row, thinks history may be repeating itself to a certain extent.

After Nixon lost on F. Clement Haynsworth largely on grounds of conflict of interest -- the judge participated in cases in which he had a financial interest -- Nixon set about looking for a different kind of federal judge to further his "southern strategy."

Says Bayh, who practices law here, "I can see a red-faced Richard Nixon pounding the desk and saying to {attorney general John} Mitchell, 'Find me a judge who has no stocks.' "

Mitchell came up with G. Harrold Carswell, whose civil rights record did not bear examination, and he, too, was rejected.

With the ultraprolific Robert H. Bork defeated, the White House looked for someone who had hardly ever put pen to paper. They came up with Douglas H. Ginsburg, who, being 41 and engaged in other activities, presents a whole new set of problems. He hasn't written much, it is true. But his life style may raise eyebrows on the right.

Attorney General Edwin Meese III thought he had the Democrats cornered this time. Said a GOP senator, who like others thought the Ginsburg selection was one of pure spite, "What can we do? A Jew who worked for Thurgood Marshall. Do we have a choice?"

Supposedly the left had been silenced by the president's rhetorical "lynch-mob" carpet-bombing. Ginsburg would cost the liberals the Jewish groups who were part of the coalition that engineered Bork's fall.

Ginsburg is brilliant, but what distinguishes him most is entrepreneurial rather than judicial accomplishment. He was a Yuppie before his time, which is not exactly what people look for in a Supreme Court justice. He dropped out of his first year at Cornell in 1965 to pioneer a computerized dating service.

Already a potential conflict-of- interest question has come up. As a Justice Department official, he participated in decisions on the cable-TV industry while he had $140,000 invested in a cable firm. The White House says this is "irrelevant."

Meese's sponsorship was Ginsburg's No. 1 problem until more intriguing data came along. Some speculate that Ginsburg's principal strength was that he was not Judge Anthony M. Kennedy, the perfectly acceptable California conservative. White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. had gone up to the Hill and been assured that Kennedy would be confirmed in a walk.

It may have been Kennedy's acceptability that turned off Meese, who is of the punitive school of politics. The details of Ginsburg's supposedly more rigid orthodoxy are unknown. All we know is that Meese and his ultra-right confederates launched an eleventh-hour campaign to redeem Reagan's promise to give the Senate Democrats someone they would find as obnoxious as Bork.

Culturally, Ginsburg is so far from the model right-winger that his core constituency may have trouble defending him. He has been married twice, and the child from each marriage has been given the last name of the mother. This could be an action of extreme feminism, which could offend Phyllis Schlafly and company; or it could be, as one Jew put it, a statement that "you don't want a child to have a Jewish name" -- a consideration that might interfere with the administration hope that Ginsburg will peel Jewish organizations from the liberal coalition.

Can we look forward to hearing Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), a Mormon elder, defend computerized dating on the Senate floor?

Ginsburg's preliminary interviews on Capitol Hill with members of the Judiciary Committee went very well; he did not display any of the off-putting strangeness senators found in Bork.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a student of Ginsburg's at Harvard Law School, found him to be a "free-market conservative of a sensible sort" and a "nice, decent, civilized man." But Frank, like others who knew the nominee in another life, has no idea of what he thinks about other issues.

Southern Democrats, who provided the critical mass against Bork, have no stake in Ginsburg. Voting against a Harvard professor, who is also an easterner and a Jew, won't necessarily rile their conservative constituents.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) is suggesting that his colleagues simply stand back and watch the conservatives cope with their baffling new nominee. If Ginsburg proves as heartless a Tory as Bork, he's in trouble with the left; if he turns out to be more moderate, he could turn off the right.

Being Meese's man, and not Anthony Kennedy, might not be enough.