It's not easy for a senator to stand up to a president of his own party and oppose a nominee to a federal appeals court. Particularly in a controversial case where the political stakes are high, he has to think the nominee is pretty awful. Slade Gorton clearly thought that about Daniel Manion, President Reagan's nominee for the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Doubtless at some cost, the first-term senator, up for reelection this year, was preparing to vote no. Then the White House called, offering to release a nominee whom Mr. Gorton supported for a federal judgeship in his state of Washington. The man's price had been neatly found; he voted aye.

Deals are made all the time in Congress, and doubtless others who voted for Mr. Manion in the inconclusive proceedings this week also had misgivings about the nomination. But Mr. Gorton took it too far. An aide says in his behalf that the Seventh Circuit is far away and "we don't live in Indiana; we're not going to have to live with any modestly qualified decisions made there." "He's the person they want," the spokesman continued. "The issue is whether or not Gorton stands up for the state of Washington."

Wrong -- and while we're at it, shabby. Judges aren't pork. You are talking here about putting a man of the most tenuous qualifications astride some of the most sensitive issues the country presents. A man who would vote to do that -- what wouldn't he vote to do?

The buying of Slade Gorton was not the only smudge on the day. There are powerful intimations that the Senate's leaders, if they didn't quite lie to anyone, on two occasions did not go out of their way to explain the whole truth. Majority Leader Bob Dole said he couldn't bring the nomination to a vote because two supporters were out of town. Two Democrats then agreed to "pair" their votes with these and stand aside. Now one of the putative supporters, Bob Packwood, says he was and remains undecided, and that "Bob Dole never talked to me and he has no authority to do what he did." Because another presumed supporter, Barry Goldwater, was also off the floor, Nancy Kassebaum was then similarly persuaded to change her vote from no to yes. Now it appears that Mr. Goldwater's may not have been a certain vote, either. All this in an institution whose members love to talk about the honor of the Senate, about how it runs on trust.