Maybe Chairman Joseph Biden of the Senate Judiciary Committee is right in criticizing the nomination Friday of outgoing Florida Gov. Bob Martinez as the nation's new drug czar. Maybe.

Certainly the drug fighting job should be filled on the basis of ability, not as a political favor. Certainly the nomination would have looked better if Martinez, whose campaign was managed by one of Bush's sons, had not been defeated in his bid for re-election. Certainly Martinez' accomplishments as the first governor to name a state drug czar and his tough law enforcement are offset by the sharp increase in drug crimes in Florida during his administration.Even so, Martinez' credentials in combating such crimes are more impressive than those of William Bennett before he took over as the nation's first drug czar.

Consequently, Sen. Biden is out of line in declaring that Martinez "lacks the background and record to suggest that he is well-suited for this task."

Sen. Biden is out of line in other ways, too. His Senate committee is the panel that will hold hearings on the Martinez nomination. Consequently, his premature criticism suggests that Biden has pre-judged Martinez before all the facts are in and that the nominee could have a hard time getting a fair hearing.

Whoever replaces Bennett certainly doesn't need such gratuitous enmity from powerful congressional leaders on top of the many other big burdens the drug czar must bear.

Consider just a few of those burdens. Despite some signs of progress in fighting drugs, including a drop in casual use of cocaine, drugs can readily be bought in many school yards and on street corners. Though more high school students are rejecting drugs, high school dropouts are increasing and many of the ex-students turn to drugs. At the same time, drug-related murders are rising.

If the war against drugs is to succeed, it will take full cooperation between Congress and whoever serves as drug czar. There was plenty of mutual sniping when Bennett held the job. Now let's call a cease-fire.