"WE'RE GOING to wage an all-out frontal assault like you've never seen before on this nominee, assuming it's Bork," Kate Michelman of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said the other day. "There will be a mass mobilization," said Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice. We hope not. This isn't a mud-pie contest. That kind of approach to the nomination would be wrong, wrong, wrong.

Robert Bork, whom President Reagan has now nominated to succeed Lewis Powell as Supreme Court justice, is an eminent member of his profession. He is 60 years old, which means both that he is seasoned and that he has been tested by a nearly full career. He went from the University of Chicago law school to one of the nation's largest law firms, then to the faculty of the Yale Law School; was solicitor general of the United States in the Nixon-Ford administrations; has been a member since 1982 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

He is, of course, also a certifiable conservative, not a glassy-eyed ideologue, but a judge and potential justice who, from the standpoint of the groups now gearing up to oppose him -- often from ours as well -- may well vote wrong much of the time. On a lot of issues he could even tip the divided high court.

But let us be clear on the nature of the debate. One set of issues in the confirmation process will be whether Judge Bork is personally and professionally qualified to serve on the court. These questions go to character, to intellect, to basic fealty to the law. Is he in the zone? The hearings may surprise us -- that is what hearings are for -- but it is hard to believe the answer will be other than an easy yes.

But the real issue in the debate is unlikely to be this. It will be the judge's philosophical leanings, the positions he has taken over the years, his likely effect on the court. The Senate must decide not just what it thinks of his judicial record but the extent to which it wants the confirmation process to become a referendum on these political questions rather than the judge. The nature of the confirmation process is as much at issue this time around as the quality of the nomine