Three federal appeals court judges -- Anthony M. Kennedy of Sacramento, Ralph K. Winter Jr. of New Haven, Conn., and Douglas H. Ginsburg of the District -- emerged yesterday as the leading candidates for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., according to administration sources.

The sources said they expect the White House to announce a new nominee on Thursday, six days after the Senate rejected the nomination of Robert H. Bork by a 58-to-42 vote. They cautioned that other names might also be presented to President Reagan today, including Edith H. Jones, a federal appeals court judge in Houston.

Reagan discussed various nominees with his advisers yesterday and will hold more discussions today, when Attorney General Edwin Meese III returns from San Diego, the sources said.

White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. and William L. Ball III, assistant to the president for legislative affairs, met yesterday for about 40 minutes with Senate Majority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.).

Baker said the administration was seeking "insight" into the senators' views of 13 individuals on the list of possible candidates.

An administration source said Byrd and Biden offered a generally positive reading on Kennedy, Winter and Ginsburg.

However, Senate sources cautioned that they were still in the initial stages of researching the three men, who are far lesser known than Bork.

The sources said each of the three leading candidates presents various advantages and drawbacks. Winter is perceived as most ideologically in tune with the Reagan administration but likely to draw fire from civil rights groups because of some writings in that area. Kennedy is viewed as less controversial, but some administration officials are concerned that he is not sufficiently conservative and question his intellectual qualifications. Ginsburg is attractive because he is 10 years younger than the two others but is a far lesser-known quantity and his age could raise questions about whether he has enough experience to be on the court.

"All are acceptable within a certain range," one administration source said. "They all have certain strengths and weaknesses."

Kennedy, 51, was named to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1975 by President Gerald R. Ford. In a 1980 case involving the Navy's policy of firing homosexuals, Kennedy upheld the constitutionality of the Navy's actions but noted, "Upholding the challenged regulations as constitutional is distinct from a statement that they are wise." The Supreme Court later adopted Kennedy's reasoning in a dissent in U.S. v. Leon, which established a "good-faith" exception to the rule excluding illegally seized evidence from being used at trial.

Winter, 52, a former Yale Law School colleague and close friend of Bork, was named to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1982. An administration source said he understood that Justice Thurgood Marshall, for whom Winter once clerked, called Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), a leading opponent of Bork, to tell Kennedy that Winter was "the best they could get" and to support him. Kennedy's office declined to comment. At Winter's swearing-in, Marshall said his former clerk would be a "great judge" and that "he's got a heart."

But a knowledgeable source said that Marshall recently recalled and strongly objected to a 1967 article in the University of Chicago Law Review in which Winter said, "I have grave doubts about the wisdom of fair employment programs generally."

Portly, gregarious and often self-effacing, Winter has views that parallel those of the administration in several areas.

He wrote a dissenting opinion opposing the use of numerical hiring goals for the building trades in the New York City area, a view espoused by the administration in that case but rejected last year by the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg, 41, a former Harvard Law School professor, headed the Justice Department's antitrust division before joining the federal appeals court here a year ago.

Before heading the antitrust division, he served in 1983-84 as deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust and then as administrator for information on regulatory affairs in the Office of Management and Budget.

Ginsburg, who also clerked for Marshall on the Supreme Court, was supported by Sen. Kennedy when Reagan nominated him to the appeals court.

Another judge mentioned prominently as a strong possibility for the court, Laurence H. Silberman, Ginsburg's colleague on the D.C. Circuit, was said yesterday to have slipped because of concerns among Republican and Democratic senators about his judicial temperament. Another candidate, J. Clifford Wallace, Anthony Kennedy's colleague on the 9th Circuit, has also raised questions because of his comments on religion and church-state issues.

Staff writers Helen Dewar and Lou Cannon contributed to this report.