THE Senate has correctly deferred its vote a week on the confirmation of Clarence Thomas as a Supreme Court justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee will review allegations of sexual harassment made against Thomas by a woman lawyer.Thomas's confirmation is in doubt. It is regrettable that his Supreme Court opportunity must be suspended on such a note. But without a satisfactory resolution of the matter, Thomas should not be confirmed. Better the review now than once Thomas were on the bench. If the charges surfaced later and proved substantial, Thomas's effectiveness on the court would have been impaired. If the public controversy were to gather force, his tenure could have been aborted as was that of Abe Fortas during Lyndon Johns on's presidency. For its part, where had the Senate Judiciary Committee been when the allegation affidavit was first brought to its attention? The official system isn't working well when resort must be made to press leaks. This nomination had been given a full political promotion by the Bush team. The Bush administration, too, has some explaining to do: Why did it allow a nomination to reach the point of possible recall? The controversy underscores differences in sensitivity on the subject of sexual harassment between men and women legislators on Capitol Hill. As the person then charged with enforcing the federal law on harassment, however, Thomas should have been able to draw the line correctly in his own case. If he failed to do so, he should not be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. Views on sexual harassment itself should not be the issue here. It should not be allowed, as the law states. And men should not use the potential for harassment charges as an excuse for blocking the advancement of women in the workplace. Thomas's qualifications had already appeared modest at best. Many supporters have hoped that if confirmed he would grow in the job. Black Americans, by two to one, have wanted him confirmed. Thomas should have the benefit of the doubt until the matter is explored. If his nomination fails, however, it will have been unfair of the Bush administration not to have come up with a candidate better able to fulfill black Americans' hopes. The administration tried to play cleverly with race and conservatism, inst ead of unarguable qualification. The Senate Judiciary Committee spent weeks preening on television and came up with neither Thomas's views on abortion nor a clear reading on his moral conduct, despite questions about the latter in hand. And now it has come to this.