The District of Columbia Judicial Nominating Commission yesterday selected three Washington attorneys and two D.C. Superior Court Judges as candidates to fill the U.S. District Court seat left vacant by the death of Joseph C. Waddy.

The list of five includes three blacks - Superior Court Judges John Garrett Penn and Norma Holloway Johnson and Washington attorney William Courtleigh Gardner - and two whites - Washington attorneys Roberts Bishop Owen and Richard Barry Sobol.

The Justice Department and the FBI will investigate the backgrounds of the five and the American Bar Association will pass on their suitability to be federal judges before the department recommends one or more of the group for the seat. The final choice is up to President Carter, subject to Senate confirmation.

Several Washington legal sources have said there is a good chance Carter will name a black to succeed Waddy, who also was black, and that Penn is a leading candidate to get the lifetime appointment. There are three blacks among the 13 full-time U.S. District Court judges here now.

There is one other vacancy, a result of Judge Howard F. Corcoran assuming a semi-retired status. Carter has nominated the Labor Department's top legal officer, Carin A. Clauss, for that seat, but her nominations has been criticized. A White House aide said yesterday, however, that Clauss' nomination will be submitted again when Congress reconvenes in January.

The Judicial Nominating Commission, an 11-member panel headed by former Maryland senator Joseph D. Tydings, screened 76 candidates before narrowing its list to five.

The commission is one of 13 Carter has created throughout the country to scrutinize federal court candidates. The D.C. commission nominates judges for both the district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals here. With the recent passage of the federal judgeship bill, there are 152 federal court vacancies, including two spots on the appeals court here.

Gardner, 61, is a Harvard Law School graduate and a former law partner of both Waddy and the current chief U.S. District Court Judge, William B. Bryant. He is known for his work as a civil rights attorney, including his representation of railway workers who were disputing alleged racially discriminatory collective bargaining contracts.

Owen, 52, another Harvard Law School graduate, was a Fulbright Scholar. During the height of the civil rights movement he started a group called the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Jackson, Miss. He represented Washington civic associations in their successful fights to block construction of the Three Sisters Bridge over the Potomac River and of the North Central Freeway.

Sobol, 41, a Columbia Law School graduate, created the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee in Louisiana in 1963 to provide legal representation for blacks engaged in civil rights activities. He now specializes in race and sex discrimination cases involving employment.

Penn, 46, a graduate of the Boston University School of Law, was a Justice Department tax lawyer before being named to the Superior Court in 1970. Some Washington lawyers have praised what they describe as his common-sense approach to deciding cases and his even-handed judicial temperament.

Johnson, 46, is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center. She was appointed to the Superior Court in 1970 after serving as a Justice Department attorney and an assistant D.C. Corporation Counsel. During her years on the bench she is said to have become an expert on juvenile justice.