The usually perceptive David Broder {op-ed, Oct. 6} missed the mark by a constitutional mile in comparing the public debate engendered by the Robert Bork hearings with the mischief generated by the Rose Bird reconfirmation election.

Reconfirmation elections for judges are indeed dangerous assaults on judicial independence and integrity, for they require judges constantly to weigh the impact of their decision-making on their upcoming campaigns for election. It takes an unusually strong and independent judge to resist the temptation to tailor his decisions so as to avoid upsetting the electorate.

Confirmation hearings, on the other hand, take place prior to the judge's assumption of duties. In Robert Bork's case, as with all life-tenure federal judges, they constitute the public's only chance to assess the nominee's fitness for the position. If he satisfies the people's representatives, he will never again have to answer to them. Fittingly, therefore, the process is legislative in nature.

The Bork hearings were quintessentially -- and gloriously -- legislative. There was testimony that was brilliant and moving and wise -- and some pretty goofy testimony too. Senators on both sides distinguished themselves with thoughtful questioning -- and others on both sides were underwhelming, to be kind. Many citizens spoke, and plenty of money was spent, on both sides.

The result was the distinctive hurly-burly that characterizes our legislative process, with one additional feature: unlike most legislative battles, people great and small spoke up on Judge Bork not because money or other economic interests were directly at stake, but because they cared. The citizenry debated the issues. That some debated the issues poorly while others instructed and inspired their fellow citizens comes with the territory of free speech. To me, as a lawyer -- no, as a citizen -- the spectacle was magnificent. Never have I been so thankful, so proud to be part of our wondrously free, democratic system.