Morris Abram, a lawyer President Reagan nominated to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights partly because of his opposition to quotas, which generally establish minimum standards for minority participation, is involved in a case in New York City in which he is defending a quota that establishes a maximum for minorities.

Abram, whose confirmation hearings in the Senate begin today, is defending a housing development in Brooklyn that is being sued because it maintains a ceiling of 30 percent on the number of apartments it rents to minorities.

In the suit, black tenants who have been denied the chance to rent empty units in the Starrett City complex because the 30 percent minority occupancy ceiling had been achieved, charge that the quota violates the 1968 Civil Rights Act. They are seeking an injunction declaring such quotas illegal. The case has been declared a class-action suit on behalf of all blacks denied apartments in the complex.

"I do not discuss law cases in the press, because I do not think it would be proper," Abram said, but he did affirm his opposition to racial quotas. "That is a general position, yes."

The Starrett City complex is a private, federally subsidized, middle income development completed in 1974. It has 5,581 apartments, and is, according to court documents, the largest federally subsidized housing project in the nation.

The complex set up an "affirmative fair housing marketing plan" when it opened "to ensure that it would integrated." The project abuts East New York, "one of New York's worst slums," according to court documents, and the fear of developers was that without a ceiling it would quickly become all black. About 65 percent of the apartments are now occupied by whites.

Larry Grossberg, an attorney for the group of blacks that filed the suit, said that because of the quota the complex took five years to rent, "passing over eligible black applicants in the interest allegedly of maintaining integration."

He said developers and their attorneys "have refused to use the word quota. They've called it a managed waiting list, integration control, a variety of terms, but as far as we can determine, there is no question that this is a racial occupancy ceiling quota."