SHOULD JUDGE Robert Bork be elevated to the Supreme Court? To answer the question intelligently you need to know a lot of things. Aside from the basic questions of what standards the Senate ought to apply in judging nominees and how Judge Bork's constitutional philosophy will play out on the court, there is a mountain of published work and court opinions to be read. It also usually helps to pose questions to the nominee in a public hearing and take account of his responses. Apparently thisis too much to ask of the chairman of the committee that will consider the nomination. While claiming that Judge Bork will have a fulland fair hearing, Sen. Joseph Biden this week has pledged to civil rights groups that he will lead the opposition to confirmation. As the Queen of Hearts said to Alice, "Sentence first -- verdict afterward."

Sen. Biden's vehement opposition may surprise those who recall his statement of last November in a Philadelphia Inquirer interview: "Say the administration sends up Bork and, after our investigation, he looks a lot like Scalia. I'd have to vote for him, and if the {special-interest} groups tear me apart, that's the medicine I'll have to take." That may have been a rash statement, but to swing reflexively to the other side of the question at the first hint of pressure, claiming the leadership of the opposition, doesn't do a whole lot for the senator's claim to be fit for higher office. Sen. Biden's snap position doesn't do much either to justify the committee's excessive delay of the start of hearings until Sept. 15. If minds are already made up, why wait?

A whole string of contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have reacted in the same extravagant way. Maybe Judge Bork should not be confirmed. But nothing in their overstated positions would persuade you of that. These Democrats have managed to convey the impression in their initial reaction not that Judge Bork is unqualified to be on the Supreme Court, but rather that they are out to get him whether he is or not. Judge Bork deserves a fair and thorough hearing. How can he possibly get one from Sen. Biden, who has already cast himself in the role of a prosecutor instead of a juror in the Judiciary Committee? If there is a strong, serious case to be argued against Judge Bork, why do so many Democrats seem unwilling to make it and afraid to listen to the other side?