THE AVERAGE federal judge serves 15 years in that office, so it is not surprising that duringhis eight-year tenure, former President Ronald Reagan appointed just under half (378) the men and women on the district, appellate and Supreme Court bench. The pace of President Bush's judicial appointments has been somewhat slower, but in two years, 67 of his nominees have been confirmed. In general, they have had smoother sailing than the Reagan nominees. Only one, Justice David Souter, was subjected to a recorded vote in the Senate, and he was easily confirmed, 90 to 9. Comparisons are already being made between the two sets of nominees, and most observers agree thatthe Bush judges have fared well because,though conservative, they have not been confrontational.

Most are surprisingly in the mold of Justice Souter. Their average age is 50. All but four are Republicans. Most are financially comfortable and were educated in private law schools. A typical nominee has already had judicial experience on a state or lower federal court. When the last Congress adjourned, three of President Bush's nominees had not been confirmed because there was not enough time for consideration. They have been renominated, and now the process of sending up new choices has begun again. There are now five names before the Judiciary Committee. In the coming months, the president will not only be filling vacancies as they continually occur, but will have a opportunity to name judges for an additional 85 slots created in the last Congress.

The president says that he would like to name more women and minorities to these positions, but he is constrained by the tradition that allows senators to choose nominees in their own states. He has written to the minority leader asking that senators make a special effort to find female, black and Hispanic candidates, and it should be noted in his favor that his four appointments to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit -- where, we need not remind you, no senator represents the jurisdiction -- one is a woman and one is black.

Advocates of more diversity on the federal bench always cite the record of former President Jimmy Carter. Almost a third of his appointments were women and minorities. President Bush has not met this standard, but he has thus far surpassed not only his predecessor, but every other president except Mr. Carter. Neither President Nixon nor President Ford appointed a single black or woman to an appellate court, and even President Johnson's nominees were overwhelming male and white. Of course, the percentage of women and minorities in the legal profession has greatly increased in the past 30 years. That fact, together with President Bush's professed interest in promoting judicial diversity, raise expectations for more varied appointments during this Congress.