Attorney General Edwin Meese III yesterday announced that two Justice Department officials will move up a notch to become his top deputies, creating a vacancy at the top of the sensitive Civil Rights Division.

In his first news conference as attorney general, Meese said President Reagan will nominate Associate Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen to be deputy attorney general, the department's second-ranking official, and Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds to take Jensen's place as associate attorney general, the third-ranking position.

Both are conservative Republicans and could face critical questioning during their Senate confirmation hearings. Jensen has supported a federal death penalty and use of "preventive detention" for arrested persons deemed dangerous. Reynolds has been accused by civil rights groups of weakening enforcement of civil rights laws.

There had been speculation that Reynolds would replace Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, who has indicated intentions to leave, but Meese declined to say when a change will be made in that position.

Nor did Meese announce a replacement for Reynolds as head of the Civil Rights Division. But speculation has focused on Reynolds' top deputy, Charles J. Cooper, and Bruce E. Fein, an attorney formerly in the division. Both are former law clerks to Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Cooper, 33, also has expressed interest in working in the department's Office of Legal Policy, where he would have a role in selecting federal judges.

Like Reynolds, Cooper is against goals and timetables in affirmative action cases and supports attempts to end court-ordered school busing in some cases. He advocates minimal federal intrusion in what he calls the "sovereignty of states," particularly in cases involving standards of state hospitals and prisons.

Fein, who served as general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission after leaving the Justice Department, is vice president of the public relations firm Gray & Co.

Mark Disler, general counsel to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, reportedly will fill the division's No. 3 position, which has been vacant since former deputy assistant attorney general Daniel F. Rinzel resigned. Disler was a special assistant to Reynolds in the Civil Rights Division.

Meese, who was counselor to the president before becoming attorney general, also named three former White House aides to Justice Department positions. T. Kenneth Cribb Jr., 36, who was assistant counselor to the president, will serve as counselor to the attorney general. Stephen H. Galebach, 32, who was deputy assistant director for legal policy in the White House, will be Meese's senior special assistant. John North Richardson Jr., 27, who was special assistant to Meese in the White House, will assume the same role at Justice.

Jensen, 56, the deputy attorney general-designate, was a prosecutor in California with Meese in the Alameda County district attorney's office.

As deputy attorney general, Jensen would oversee the same areas he did as associate attorney general -- the Criminal Division and other law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Reynolds would oversee the Civil Rights, Civil, Antitrust and Land and Natural Resource divisions, according to department sources.

Reynolds was a partner in the Washington law firm of Shaw, Pittman, Potts and Trowbridge prior to becoming head of the Civil Rights Division in 1981.

During his news conference, Meese defined affirmative action in the same way that Reynolds has. Meese said he wants government contractors to "widen fields of hiring; we want them to go out and as broadly as possible recruit, we want them to go out and provide information among minority people about opportunities . . . , we want them to have training programs . . . . What we cannot under the law utilize are things like quotas."

The Supreme Court said last June that judges could not interfere with a seniority system to protect blacks from layoffs -- a decision the Justice Department interprets as evidence that numerical goals in hiring are illegal. But federal judges around the country have continued to uphold the use of numerical goals designed to increase the employment of blacks and women.

Meese also said he would not make available logs of those who visit him, at first saying it was a "tradition" not to make the logs public and then saying that he understood that some attorneys general made their logs public but he would not.

Meese said he felt that $75 an hour was "proper compensation" for lawyers bringing suits against the government under statutes that allow collection for such suits. The attorneys who defended Meese in an investigation by an independent counsel are seeking fees of more than $720,000 at rates of up to $250 an hour. But Meese told the news conference, "Indeed, in my own case, if that regulation or law had been in effect at that time, my attorneys would have abided by it as well."

In regard to court-ordered school-busing plans, Meese said the Justice Department will see "whether more effective means of providing for the desegregation of school systems can be substituted."

"As a matter of fact," he said, "I think it's generally recognized in educational as well as legal circles that school busing has had marginal effect as far as improvement is concerned and actually in some cases has added to deterioration of the situation."