A debate that has intensified following the resignation of Justice William H. Brennan has been mischaracterized as one of whether women will continue to have freedom to choose abortion. Overturning the rule of Roe v. Wade would not outlaw abortion. It would simply shift the legal decision from the courts to the state legislatures and the people. Thus one can question the constitutional legitimacy of Roe in our generally democratic system of government while fully supporting a right of choice.

Indeed, the overturning of Roe could be a disaster for the Bush administration and the Republican party. It would further powerfully energize the supporters of a right of choice on local and national levels. Previously this movement has been throttled by Roe, which made it redundant. One only has to recall the 1989 race for the governorship of Virginia, a conservative state with a relatively small minority population, which was won -- following a judicial weakening of Roe -- by a black Democrat almost certainly on the basis of his support of a right of choice.

The likely effect of overruling Roe would be its retention by statute in most of the populous states of the nation (augmented by the public funding of abortions for poor women who desire them) and perhaps the rejection of Mr. Bush in the next presidential election. Thus liberals should be less concerned with the nomination of David H. Souter. Conservatives, however, have a basis for fearing him. DAVID ROBINSON JR. Washington

The writer is a professor of law at The George Washington University.

"Polite" and "political" may be neighbors in the dictionary, but they were worlds apart on Air Force One on July 20. George Bush's response to Justice Brennan's resignation was downright rude.

On his way back from finding time -- all afternoon, in fact -- to praise fellow Republican Richard Nixon, our "nice guy" president would not find a moment to thank Justice Brennan, on behalf of the American people, for 34 remarkable years of service to this country. Instead, he spoke only of finding a replacement.

Politics aside, the president should have acknowledged the retirement of a man who gave himself tirelessly and with such distinction in the name of public service.

Does George Bush speak for the American people? If so, these American people would prefer that he spend a little less time on former president Nixon and more time on someone who has earned the praise. AMY KOSSOW JERRY MANNING Washington