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The announcement last week that Deputy Attorney General James Comey intends to step down before Labor Day took few observers by surprise. After all, Comey � a career prosecutor who holds his political views close � has never been part of the in-crowd at Main Justice. Even some friends did not know that Comey was a Republican until he was appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York in 2001 by the Bush administration. But if the White House remains true to its recruiting patterns, Comey is likely to be replaced by a very different sort of lawyer � the sort who brings along references from conservative appellate Judge J. Michael Luttig, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, or former Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Since the beginning of the administration more than four years ago, the White House has systematically staffed key Justice Department posts with attorneys groomed by a tight circle of federal judges and former government officials who are seen as guiding lights in the modern conservative movement. See graphic: Hire Power: A Constellation of Conservative Connections Unlike Scalia and Starr, the names of this new generation of lawyers are unfamiliar to most Americans, but their political views have shaped the nation’s policies on issues like affirmative action, the environment, gun control, school choice, and the war on terror. Their credentials suggest that the path to a plum job at the Justice Department is a narrow one, likely to include membership in the Federalist Society, a degree from a prestigious law school, a clerkship for an influential conservative judge, and a stopover at a law firm with Republican ties. To be sure, not every Bush DOJ official bears the same biography. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales � who has been a loyal aide to George W. Bush during most of his political career � comes from a somewhat different background. Even so, he has staffed his office with lawyers who boast sterling GOP credentials. Chief of Staff Theodore Ullyot, for instance, clerked for both Luttig and Scalia. A University of Chicago Law School graduate, Ullyot began his career at Kirkland & Ellis, in the group headed by Starr. Having that sort of experience on a r�sum� works like a form of shorthand, signaling that an applicant subscribes to the administration’s conservative agenda and shares similar values. Getting a policy job at Justice without that pedigree is nearly impossible. “These are highly competitive jobs. One way to identify candidates who share the president’s values is to look toward certain sources,” says Adam Ciongoli, a counselor to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. “You can’t get to know someone in a one-hour interview, so what you want is a proxy, a reference point, something that connects a candidate to someone you know.” According to Ciongoli, the links between DOJ officials and certain organizations, judges, and law schools also reflect conscious career decisions on the part of applicants. “If you think you want to work in a Republican administration, the natural thing to do is to go to a law school like the University of Chicago and clerk for a judge like Luttig and go to events sponsored by the Federalist Society,” Ciongoli says. “The kinds of people the administration wants are going to have chosen these paths.” CLOSED CIRCLE All political hires at the Justice Department require the blessing of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. If an attorney is not seen as sufficiently supportive of the president and Republican ideology, he or she can be rejected regardless of other qualifications, say several Justice Department lawyers familiar with the process. Justice Department jobs are viewed as particularly important, not because of the department’s traditional law enforcement activities, but because of the impact its policies have on issues central to the conservative agenda. When President George W. Bush took office, his advisers considered the department a stronghold of liberal activism and set about trying to change its orientation. Among the most important positions are those in the Office of Legal Policy, where attorneys interpret the law for executive branch agencies. While there is nothing necessarily nefarious, or unusual, about a president making appointments based on a candidate’s political connections, some good government advocates believe that stacking an administration with individuals who share such similar ideology and backgrounds can have a cost. “It creates an echo chamber effect and weakens dissent,” says Paul Light, a professor of public policy at New York University. “This administration seems to have decided that it doesn’t really want dissent,” Light says. “What it wants are people who are absolute loyalists.” Dissent within an administration can slow down decision making and lead to negative newspaper headlines. But, former government officials say, it can also serve as an internal check on the power of the executive branch. Some observers see the controversial Justice Department memo on torture as an example. The August 2002 document, which suggested that the president could lawfully order the torture of terror suspects under his authority as commander in chief, was widely criticized by legal scholars and later amended by the Justice Department. “The tragedy of the torture memo is that it didn’t get caught at a much lower level much more quickly,” says Bingham McCutchen of counsel Nicholas Gess, a senior Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton. “Had that memo received a broader look, there is no question that people would have said this is just wrong, as the administration later admitted it was.” WOMEN TROUBLE Judging by the numbers, the administration’s hiring criteria may also disproportionately favor male applicants for top posts. Among senior political appointees at Main Justice, men outnumber women roughly five to one. A list provided by the department named 49 appointees in the core legal and policy components � the leadership offices, Office of Legal Counsel, Office of the Solicitor General, Office of Legal Policy, and the litigating divisions. Just eight were women. In his first three months on the job, Gonzales may have sought to improve the balance. According to Tasia Scolinos, head of the DOJ Office of Public Affairs, Gonzales has filled six leadership slots since his confirmation. Five of the six posts � including her own � have gone to women. Other women recently tapped to take over senior political jobs include Rachel Brand, nominated to head the Office of Legal Policy, and Alice Fisher, nominated to head the Criminal Division. Brand, a former clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy, has been No. 2 in the Office of Legal Policy since 2003 and previously worked with Gonzales in the White House counsel’s office. Fisher, a Latham & Watkins partner, served as a Criminal Division deputy to Michael Chertoff from 2001 to 2003. Fisher and Chertoff both have ties to Julie Myers, who heads the White House Personnel Office and was Chertoff’s chief of staff. Myers did not return a call seeking comment. Having women at the helm of key DOJ divisions could produce a trickle-down effect that leads to more women in the ranks. At the moment, however, the political tier of the department remains a predominantly male bastion. In both the Civil Division and the Antitrust Division, where roughly 40 percent of staff lawyers are women, there is not a single female political appointee. Of five new hires in the solicitor general’s office since summer 2004, only one is a woman. “To a certain extent, I think it reflects the list of credentials that you need to get a job in this administration. Those networks, perhaps not consciously, tend to operate like an Old Boy network,” says Elliot Mincberg, general counsel for the liberal People for the American Way. One female attorney who spent time in the Bush administration says the White House has tried to reach out to women. “I think it may simply be more unusual for a woman to be politically conservative,” the lawyer says. “There’s a gender stereotype that women are supposed to be Democrats.” THE FOUNDATION Former AG John Ashcroft once quipped that the executive suites of Main Justice would empty whenever the Federalist Society held a convention in Washington. He was not entirely kidding. Membership in the Federalist Society � a powerful network of conservative lawyers � is so routine among high-level Bush administration officials that they consider it hardly worth mentioning. “All the politicals are in the Federalist Society,” says one DOJ official. “It’s a big tent,” the official adds. “It includes libertarians, conservatives, country club Republicans.” Founded in 1981, the organization promotes judicial restraint, states rights, free enterprise, and conservative social values. Rather than advocating for change through litigation or lobbying, the group seeks to shape policy by influencing a generation of judges and legal scholars. Liberal interest groups see the society as a radical and shadowy organization hostile to civil rights, abortion rights, religious freedom, and environmental protection. Membership in the Federalist Society is just the beginning of the conservative Republican credentials held by most senior lawyers at the Justice Department and other government agencies. Other apparent incubators include the University of Chicago Law School, a handful of prestigious judicial clerkships, a GOP staff post at the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the appellate practice at Kirkland & Ellis that was run by Starr before and after he investigated then-President Clinton as Whitewater independent counsel. When it comes to clerkships, nothing is more impressive than a stint at the Supreme Court. Scores of current and former DOJ officials have clerked for Justices Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy. The chambers of Republican appointees Senior Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Judge Luttig of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit have also produced an impressive roster of administration officials, in part because clerks for both judges routinely go on to land clerkships with Scalia or Thomas. Both Silberman and Luttig held prominent posts in Republican administrations before their judicial appointments and remain well-connected in Republican circles. While there are any number of highly regarded GOP appointees on federal appeals courts, Silberman, Luttig, and a handful of others have become most closely associated with the Federalist movement. Luttig is often mentioned as a possible Republican nominee to the Supreme Court. Silberman was recently tapped by Bush to co-chair a commission studying U.S. intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction. He could not be reached for this article. “There’s a networking aspect to these clerkships,” says John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s Boalt Hall. Yoo clerked for Silberman in 1992, Thomas in 1994, and went on to hold an influential post in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2001 to 2003. Fellow Silberman clerks include acting Solicitor General Paul Clement, Associate Deputy AG Patrick Philbin, and former DOJ official Viet Dinh. So many of Luttig’s former clerks have risen to prominence that the group has earned the nickname “luttigators.” At least seven “luttigators” currently hold top DOJ jobs, including Theodore Ullyot, Gonzales’ chief of staff; Courtney Elwood, Gonzales’ associate counsel; and Office of Legal Counsel lawyers C. Kevin Marshall and Howard Nielson. “I’m like a proud father,” Luttig says. “I run my chambers as if it were a family.” As a federal judge, there are limits to what Luttig can do to help his former clerks land jobs in the administration, but Luttig says he encourages them to help one another professionally. “No one achieves anything alone.” Clerkships land people jobs in part on the basis of connections and references. A prestigious clerkship is also seen as a reflection that the applicant is bright and hardworking. But, equally importantly, they serve as cues to White House aides in charge of hiring that the applicant has the right political views. “When you’re looking for people who have a particular philosophy or political agenda, you’re going to place a greater premium on who can vouch for that person,” says one lawyer with experience in the hiring process. The University of Chicago Law School, one of the law schools where the Federalist Society got its start, is another valuable credential on a Republican r�sum�. The school has nearly as many alums in senior legal posts as Harvard Law School, which is roughly three times the size. Until recently, four of the five senior attorneys in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel were all graduates of the University of Chicago. “There is a certain circularity that develops because people are comfortable with people they know,” says Saul Levmore, dean of the University of Chicago Law School. “All it takes is one or two people to go to a place like the Justice Department, and it’s natural that other people will go.” But Levmore downplays the school’s reputation as a breeding ground for right-wing lawyers. “We do have one of the very largest Federalist Societies. We also have the very largest American Constitution Society,” he says, referring to the progressive legal organization formed in 2001 to counterbalance the Federalist Society. Those lawyers who served in the administration also tend to dismiss the significance of political ties and say that similar hiring trends emerge in Democratic administrations. “Look, you can have the most talented lawyer in the country, but if he doesn’t know someone, he’s not going to get the job,” says M. Edward Whelan, a former Bush official in the Office of Legal Counsel. STARR QUALITY Not only do DOJ political appointees tend to know somebody important, they often know each other from work outside of government. Indeed, a large number worked in the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis at some point in the past decade. On the roster of former Kirkland lawyers who have served in the Bush administration are Ciongoli; Philbin; Clement; Steven Bradbury, acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel; R. Alexander Acosta, head of the Civil Rights Division; Kannon Shanmugam and Daryl Joseffer, both litigators in the Office of the Solicitor General; Jeffrey Clark, a senior official in the Environmental and Natural Resources Division; and John Wood, chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security. Kirkland partner Jay Lefkowitz, who served as domestic policy adviser in the White House, returned to the firm in 2003. It’s no coincidence that the firm is also home to Starr, the former D.C. Circuit judge and Whitewater independent counsel. In 1993, after leaving the post of solicitor general, Starr went to Kirkland with a handful of other former Justice Department officials, and the group set about building an appellate litigation practice with a conservative ideological bent. Starr’s reputation as a leading conservative thinker drew young lawyers to Kirkland who identified with his politics. Nearly all came from prestigious appellate and Supreme Court clerkships. Perhaps without fully intending it, Kirkland’s recruiting efforts built a farm team for the current Republican administration. Starr, who is of counsel at Kirkland and dean of Pepperdine University School of Law, declined comment. Thomas Yannucci, chairman of Kirkland’s board and a former official in the Carter Justice Department, says the firm doesn’t consider itself Republican or Democrat. “We try to recruit from everywhere. We invite all the Supreme Court clerks to come to Kirkland, but obviously there’s a stronger pipeline to Scalia and Thomas,” Yannucci says. “People want to come and work with people they met through clerkships and law school.” A MATTER OF DEGREE To those who subscribe to vast-right-wing conspiracy theories, the convoluted web connecting high-ranking DOJ officials to groups like the Federalist Society seems suspicious. But is the dynamic any different than what was seen in the Clinton administration? Yes and no, say those familiar with hiring under Clinton. “There wasn’t the same degree of uniformity,” says Covington & Burling partner Eric Holder Jr., who served as deputy attorney general from 1997 to 2001. “People did tend to have Democratic connections, but there was a pretty vast diversity within that universe as to what they did before and where they came from. Having said that, were we hiring Republicans? Probably not.” Light, the professor at New York University, says every presidential administration wants to place political supporters in key posts. The Bush administration has simply been more disciplined in its approach. “I think the Democrats were a little messier, a little more tolerant of dissent,” he says. Arnold & Porter’s Robert Litt, who held a number of high-level posts under Clinton AG Janet Reno, says the department may not have been as political in the 1990s. “The policies of the Justice Department were not as high a priority in the Clinton administration as they are now,” he says. “Turning around the Justice Department has been an extremely high priority for conservatives. Because of that, there has been an effort to populate the department at all levels with people who have certain conservative credentials.” Vanessa Blum can be contacted at [email protected].

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