It seems certain that President Reagan's surprise nomination of federal Judge Douglas Ginsburg to the United States Supreme Court, if approved by the Senate, will swing the court more sharply to the right. Observers point out, however, that a shift to the far right - as would be welcomed by some in the administration - is not certain, even though Judge Ginsburg is considered more right-wing than Judge Anthony Kennedy, who had been widely tipped as the likely choice.
Judge Ginsburg, who has bona fide conservative credentials, would replace middle-of-the-road Justice Lewis Powell Jr., who retired from the bench last June.
Mr. Justice Powell was known as the court's ``pivot.'' He was often the deciding vote in 5-to-4 rulings, but he sided with liberals almost as much as with conservatives.
Mr. Ginsburg would join Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Byron White to form a new right-of-center force on the high court.
A fifth vote from Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor could well forge a conservative majority in key areas, including abortion, affirmative action, and school prayer.
President Reagan did not capitulate to moderate and liberal forces in nominating Judge Ginsburg, a strong advocate of judicial restraint and a antitrust specialist.
The former Harvard law professor and member of the District of Columbia Circuit Court since 1986 is a strong advocate of the Chicago school free-market economics.
Ginsburg is the youngest of the four men whose names had been mentioned in the press this week as front-runners for the Supreme Court nomination. President Reagan appointed him to the District of Columbia Circuit Court last year.
Ginsburg had served in the antitrust division of the US Justice Department as assistant, and then returned to be its director, after having worked in the White House Office of Management and Budget. He has been an enthusiastic supporter of Reagan's deregulation policies.
A graduate of Cornell University in 1970, and the University of Chicago's law school three years later, Ginsburg's views in areas other than regulatory and antitrust issues are little known.
Conservatives lobbied very heavily for Ginsburg, and Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina reportedly threatened to filibuster on the floor of the Senate if the other finalist, Anthony Kennedy, was selected.
Mr. Kennedy, a federal appeals judge from the ninth circuit in California, had been widely rumored to be the choice in the final stages of the selection process.
He was even reported to have flown to Washington on the day the Ginsburg nomination was announced.
Liberals and moderates indicated that they would have been comfortable with a Kennedy nomination because the California jurist was considered a main stream conservative rather than a right-wing idealogue.
Ginsburg, on the other hand, may well prove to be more controversial.
A former law clerk for Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall - perhaps the most outspoken liberal on the Supreme Court - Ginsburg, nevertheless, is a staunch conservative.
He has been described by a former colleague as a conservative with a ``strong faith in letting the market work out economic problems and strongly in favor of deregulation to the extent it makes sense.''
However, at least one observer has said he is not ``an abstract zealot type.''
``His antitrust views are similar to Judge Bork's,'' says Thomas Kauper, former head of the Justice Department's antitrust division under President's Nixon and Ford.
``He basically favors a conservative ``hands off'' view toward mergers. He has very little judicial experience - I think of him as an academic.''
``He has had a meteoric rise,'' says Christopher Sterling, director of telecommuncations policy at George Washington University.
``The Reagan administration, of which Ginsburg is only a part, has fairly gutted the antitrust laws - though that isn't entirely Ginsburg's fault.
``In the best sense he is, like Bork, a very bright guy. He is nothing like the ideologue that Rehnquist is, or that Bork was perceived to be.''
The nominee served the Reagan administration as assistant attorney general in the antitrust division in 1985.
It seems certain that this nomination will swing the court more sharply to the right.
In formally nominating Judge Ginsburg, President Reagan said: ``I believe America is looking for a sign that, this time, the [confirmation] process will protect the independence of our judiciary, as the framers of the Constitution intended.''
The nominee responded that he was ``looking forward to the confirmation process and, upon confirmation, taking a place in the court and playing a part in the work that it does that's so important in our system of government.''
President Reagan's first attempt to replace Justice Powell failed when Robert Bork was rejected by a 58-42 Senate vote last Friday after a highly contentious, three-month confirmation battle.
Judge Bork's widely published views in the area of civil rights and women's issues caused opposition to harden against him.