WHEN SENATORS return next week from their August recess, they should demand quick votes for two judicial nominees who have waited far too long for Senate approval. Richard Paez and Marsha Berzon were both nominated by President Clinton to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Both have been reported favorably by the Senate Judiciary Committee after having had two hearings each. Both seem to have the votes on the floor to be confirmed. Both have been nominated to vacancies that have been declared judicial emergencies. And both have been waiting for a confirmation vote for more than a year and a half. In fact, Judge Paez -- who currently serves on the federal district court in California -- was first nominated for the appeals court slot back in January 1996.

These are not the only nominees who have languished for unacceptably long periods of time. Ronnie White, a nominee for a district court vacancy in Missouri in which a judicial emergency has been declared, was first nominated back in June 1997. Ronald Gould's 9th Circuit nomination was sent to the Senate in 1997, but Mr. Gould has never even received a hearing; nor has Barry Goode, a 9th Circuit nominee whom the president named last summer. One of the two nominees for the district court here in Washington, James Klein, has been waiting for a hearing since January of last year.

All of this is unfair to the nominees, and it is unfair to the judiciary and to the litigants before it. If members object to particular judicial nominees -- and both Judge Paez and Ms. Berzon are controversial, having been reported by only a 10 to 8 vote of the committee -- they are perfectly entitled to vote against them. But senators should not forget that their own constitutional role in the nominations process is a limited one. While the Senate is entitled to reject a nomination, it is highly improper for it either to refuse or to neglect to perform its constitutional obligation to consider them. This year has so far seen only 11 judges confirmed, while 50 nominees are pending either in committee or on the Senate floor, and 68 judgeships are vacant. It is a record that senators would do well to alter.