Attorney General Edwin Meese III is trying to fill a key Justice Department post left vacant by a protest resignation, after settling for his second choice for the department's No. 2 post.

Meese announced Tuesday that he is recommending former American Bar Association president John C. Shepherd for the No. 2 job. He also said he has chosen Treasury Department enforcement chief Francis A. Keating for the department's No. 3 position, which had opened before six protest resignations rocked the department last week.Still unfilled is the job of head of the department's criminal division.

The choices announced Tuesday drew support from the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina last week had conveyed congressional concern to Meese over problems at the Justice Department in the wake of the protest resignations by Deputy Attorney General Arnold Burns, Assistant Attorney General William Weld of the criminal division, and four of their aides.

Burns and Weld resigned out of concern that the nearly 11-month criminal investigation of Meese by independent counsel James C. McKay was hurting the Justice Department's operations and image.

Shepherd was Meese's second choice to replace Burns, after former federal appeals judge Arlin Adams of Philadelphia turned it down, citing a heavy private caseload.

Keating, a former FBI agent, would fill the post vacated by Associate Attorney General Stephen Trott, who is leaving the department to become a federal appeals court judge.

Thurmond said of Shepherd and Keating, "From what I now know about these two fine individuals I look forward to supporting their confirmation."

Meese said he probably will announce a recommended replacement for Weld after returning from a week-long trip to South America to discuss drugs with officials in several countries there.