THE PRESIDENT intends to make some changes at the Civil Rights Commission, a six- member panel established in l957 to gather information and to issue reports and recommendations on civil rights matters. In its early years, the commission was at the cutting edge of a social revolution, and its views were not always welcomed by the establishment. But in practice, the panel was somewhat insulated from political turmoil. Members of national stature tended to stay on from one administration to the next, until that tradition was broken when President Nixon replaced Father Theodore Hesburgh with his own man, Arthur Flemming.

President Reagan was not happy with the commission he inherited from the Carter administration, and he has already replaced two members. Now, we are told, he is ready to remove three of the remaining four. While such a wholesale change is unprecedented, it is not illegal. If Congress believes that the commission should truly be an independent body, the law can be amended to provide fixed terms for the members. Until this is done, the president has a free hand.

The names of the three new Reagan nominees have not been formally announced, but those that have been mentioned do not startle or dismay as that of an earlier, unsuccessful and utterly unqualified nominee, the Rev. B. Sam Hart, did. It is expected that the new Reagan nominees will be conservatives, but they should also be men and women who have some background in and commitment to the cause of civil rights. The president is best served, of course, not by those whose nominations are a joke in the civil rights community, but by appointees who bring their own convictions to the job and disagree with him occasionally, as even his own commission chairman, Clarence Pendleton, has recently done.