The nominee for staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was identified incorrectly in a caption yesterday. She is Linda Chavez.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, in a stubborn, partisan clash over the independence of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, began confirmation hearings yesterday on President Reagan's three nominees to replace commissioners he fired in April.

Democrats and Republicans agreed only that all three nominees are likely to win recommendation for full Senate confirmation.

The nominees share Reagan's opposition to quotas and court-mandated busing for racial desegregation and would replace commissioners who often criticized the administration for a "poor" civil rights record. Reagan replaced two other commissioners last year.

"I don't have any argument with you, but I'm going to vote against all of you," said Sen. Jospeh R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).

Biden said he, too, opposes busing and objects to quotas, but added that the president is sending a "horrible" signal that the Civil Rights Commission can be reined in by an administration that does not like what the commission has to say.

"The Civil Rights Commission must feel free to act on the basis of their moral judgments without fear of being fired for political purposes," said Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).

"Regardless of the merits of the new appointees, the issue before us relates directly to the independence of the commission...Nothing they can say or do or have done has any relevance. These appointments carry with them the president's anti-civil rights firings."

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said that the administration's recent "flurry of activity," including a new fair housing proposal and the filing of a suit against Alabama for maintaining a racially segregated college system, "lacks staying power . . . . We need more activity on civil rights but not as a cover to weaken one of the strong voices we have on civil rights."

Several members of the House testified against the nominees, including Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.), head of the Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.), head of the Black Caucus, and Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo), head of the Caucus on Women's Issues. Another 154 House members signed a letter that read, in part: "By attempting to replace a total of five of the six commissioners the president seeks not only to change the commission's composition but also its basic character as an institution."

Several Republicans defended the president. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who chaired most of the hearing, said the question of the commission's independence was a "bogus issue . . . and makes us wonder what real issues are being masked by this smoke screen."

Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) also took up the president's defense, saying, "Apparently, President Reagan can't do anything right according to partisan leaders in the Hispanic and black groups, who all seem to be Democrats and claim they are speaking for the community."

The three nominees--Morris Abram, former president of Brandeis University, John Bunzel, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Robert Destrow, a law professor at Catholic University--came before the hearing surrounded by senators who praised them for their dedication to civil rights.

Abram was accompanied by Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.). Destrow was accompanied by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. (R-Wis.). Bunzel had a statement read into the record from Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.).

Abram also had a letter read from Martin Luther King Sr., who wrote, "I do not believe that many southern white people have had a longer experience in support civil rights than Mr. Abram . . . ."