The elevation of William Bradford Reynolds to associate attorney general would create a vacancy at the Justice Department's civil rights division. That division was misidentified in Friday's Federal Report.

He has only been in office three weeks, but Attorney General Edwin Meese is already faced with a critically important decision. He has elevated Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, who has been in charge of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, to a higher post. Mr. Reynolds will now be associate attorney general with broad responsibility for civil litigation in the department. Mr. Meese must fill Mr. Reynolds' old position in what is perhaps the most important civil rights post in the federal government.

In the last four years, Mr. Reynolds has led and supervised great policy changes in his division, many of them, in our view, for the worse. His post, traditionally a position of leadership in the drive to expand civil rights in court and in Congress, is now in the forefront of this administration's effort to diminish the role of the federal government in initiating litigation and even defending earlier court actions. This is particularly true in the areas of affirmative action and school desegregation.

Nor surprisingly, Mr. Reynolds' relationship with those groups generally considered to be the special responsibility of the division has been rocky. While they acknowledge that he is a competent lawyer, many civil rights workers believe -- with reason -- that Mr. Reynolds has been less personally committed to their goals than other assistant attorneys general in this office, including many Republicans.

The Reagan administration cannot be expected to put a Burke Marshall, John Doar or Drew Days into this important spot. Its position on civil rights enforcement was clear to the voters, and it is evidently a sincerely held view. But certainly it is possible to find a man or woman for the job who is able to convey to minority Americans especially a personal concern for them, and an understanding of the real barriers to equal justice and equal opportunity that still exist in this country. It is of vital importance to minorities to believe that someone in the administration has a personal, even an emotional commitment to the enforcement of rights and the fostering of equal opportunity, even if that commitment does not involve numerical goals and quotas or increased busing. In filling Mr. Reynolds' position, the new attorney general can demonstrate his understanding of these concerns and his sensitivity to the needs of those Americans who have, for many decades, relied on the Justice Department as a powerful and compassionate ally.