JUDGE WILLIAM Sessions, who was nominated last week to be the new director of the FBI, looks more like a preacher or a professor than a West Texas "tough guy." But that is how he has been described, and he doesn't seem to object. "If I am . . ." he says, "it's simply because we have dealt with some very difficult problems out there." He's not exaggerating: Judge Sessions was involved in one of the most unusual and difficult criminal cases in the state's history. A series of trials of major drug dealers was begun in Texas in the late '70s. During the proceedings, an attempt was made to assassinate the U.S. attorney. A few months later, John H. Wood, the federal judge who was presiding over the trials, was gunned down in front of his home. He was the first federal judge to have been murdered in this country in more than a century. Judge Sessions took over the trial Judge Wood had been scheduled to handle, then, two years later, presided at the trial of Judge Wood's murderers. An appellate judge, reviewing the trial record of more than 200 volumes, called Judge Sessions' performance "a magnificent tour de force."

Those who have commented on the nomination have used a combination of phrases about the judge. He is known as "tough but fair," characterized by "conservatism and personal integrity," "devoted to safeguarding constitutional rights" and "a stiff sentencer." These descriptions reflect two attributes -- strong views on criminal justice and a commitment to the rule of law -- that a director of the FBI must have.

The administration took a long time naming someone. Indications are that it has come up with a nominee who will have little trouble getting confirmed. Judge Sessions has the bipartisan support of the Texans in the Senate and has been commended by criminal and civil liberties lawyers in San Antonio. So far, there is no opposition to his nomination. Even so, the nominee for such a critical and powerful job requires a serious screening by the legislators who approve him. A man who has climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest and volunteered, in his mid-fifties, to be a civilian astronaut should not be daunted by the prospect of making known his views on how the FBI ought to be be ru