The Senate approved Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the 107th justice, and second woman, on the Supreme Court yesterday, completing one of the most harmonious court confirmations in recent history.

The vote was 96 to 3. The three Republicans who opposed Ginsburg -- Sens. Jesse Helms (N.C.), Robert C. Smith (N.H.) and Don Nickles (Okla.) -- protested her support for abortion rights. The only senator who did not vote, Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.), was in Michigan attending the funeral of Rep. Paul B. Henry (R-Mich.).

"It feels wonderful," Ginsburg told reporters as she visited the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon to begin making arrangements for her chambers there and swearing-in next Tuesday. Later, at a brief appearance with President Clinton in the Rose Garden, she deflected questions about what kind of justice she expects to be and said, "I'll do the very best I can in the job."

Clinton, who is the first Democrat in 26 years to make a high court appointment, said, "I have no doubt {she} will be a great justice." He said he expected her to move the court neither to the "right" nor the "left," but "forward."

Clinton's nomination of Ginsburg followed a highly publicized and sometimes awkward search that had focused on, among others, New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and, even down to the wire, U.S. appeals court Judge Stephen G. Breyer.

But once Clinton chose Ginsburg, the appeals judge for the D.C. Circuit was embraced by senators of both parties as a "consensus" choice. The Senate was still feeling the fallout from the nasty 1991 confirmation fight over Clarence Thomas. As Ginsburg's nomination progressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then to the floor, favorable reviews grew.

"The anticipated storm," said committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), "never arrived."

During full Senate consideration, Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said: "By any measure, she is qualified to become the Supreme Court's ninth justice. . . . Some have criticized Judge Ginsburg for being more interested in the fine print rather than the big picture, and for being a legal technician rather than an interpretive philosopher -- criticisms that Judge Ginsburg should wear as a badge of honor."

Only Helms objected to Ginsburg during debate on Monday. "This lady, whom I have regarded as a pleasant, intellectual liberal, is, in fact, a woman whose beliefs are 180 degrees in opposition to some fundamental principles that are important not only to me but, I believe, to the majority of other Americans."

Helms criticized Ginsburg's abortion rights stance and her support for the "homosexual agenda." While Ginsburg in her testimony denounced rank discrimination against homosexuals, she refused to comment on whether it was illegal or unconstitutional to deny people benefits based on their sexual orientation.

Ginsburg's 96-to-3 vote was stronger than the votes for President George Bush's nominees -- Thomas was confirmed 52 to 48 and David H. Souter was confirmed 90 to 9 -- but it did not reach the unanimous Senate approval given to Anthony M. Kennedy in 1987, Antonin Scalia in 1986 and Sandra Day O'Connor in 1981.

The White House said Ginsburg's confirmation was the swiftest since President Gerald R. Ford's appointment of John Paul Stevens in 1975. After Clinton nominated Ginsburg on June 14, the Senate Judiciary Committee expedited the hearings to make sure that she would have time to prepare for the start of the new court term Oct. 4.