For the second time in a year and a half, The Post has published an op-ed piece criticizing Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) for blocking an ambassadorial nomination. First it was William Weld's nomination ["The Senate Capitulates," Sept. 16, 1997], and now it is Brian Atwood's ["A Nomination Crushed," May 21].

With all the anger and frustration about this process, why has no one challenged the real crux of the problem, the Senate's rules?

How is it possible that in our democracy, the Senate's rules permit one senator to thwart the wishes of a majority of his or her colleagues, and by extension, the wishes of the people? The Post's beef with Sen. Helms and other committee members is only that they allowed the rules to be applied. Why not take the extra step and say what must seem obvious to most Americans: Those outmoded rules have no place in a modern democracy.

These rules "have evolved to perpetuate the Founding Fathers' concept of the Senate as a brake on populist impulses, giving individual senators -- especially well-placed ones -- enormous power to block action," according to "Sen. Helms's Gavel Leaves Weld Nomination in Limbo" [front page, Sept. 13, 1997]. Does this make any sense in 1999?

The last hint of the Senate as a check on popular sentiment was removed in 1913, when the 17th Amendment mandated the direct election of senators. No one, not even Sen. Helms, believes that the Senate must guard against populist excess.

It is not surprising that committee chairmen in the Senate wish to preserve their prerogatives, but nothing prevents the Senate from changing its rules. The Constitution states that "each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings."

If we are to be a nation of laws, not of men, then the Senate must abandon its antiquated, undemocratic rules.

PETER SAMSON

Fairfax