SHOULD THE District government take control of the city courts form the federal government? U.S. Attorney General William French Smith addressed the question the other day and reportedly said: "At the moment there seemed to be more arguments against than for." the best argument against the District's selecting its own judges and prosecutors is, of course, that the current system works fine. The prestige of the federal government has attracted top-notch lawyers and judges. Another argument commonly cited is that many of the judges and prosecutors in the system are against a change.

These are not insubstantial considerations. But Mr. Smith ought also to consider the principle of home rule. Government by the people who live in a given jurisdiction is central to the idea of democracy even -- we would say especially -- if the jurisdiction is the nation's captial. Until the District has full authority over prosecutions of its own crimes, democracy here will be incomplete.

Does this require forfeiting quality justice? Under local home rule, the courts surely should continue to attract some of the finest legal minds if only because this town is still Washington, D.C., showcase of lawyers, no matter who runs the courts. As for the judges and lawyers who fear their lives may be upset, their concerns in no way match the concerns of local citizens who ak that their own officials hold the reins to their courts. As for those in the system who equate local control with imcompetence, let them stick around to make the change work.