Caroline Lynch was poised to offer special insights when Congress began investigating the unauthorized disclosure of national security documents by contractor Edward Snowden. Lynch, chief counsel to the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, had helped draft amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008 and worked toward its reauthorization last year. That background lent “a certain amount of context and understanding of the law to help advise the members,” she said.

Lynch, 39, spent about four years working for former Representative John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) — now a partner in Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s Phoenix and Washington offices — before leaving Congress in 2000 for law school. After earning her J.D. in 2003, she clerked for an Arizona state court of appeals judge and was a prosecutor in Maricopa County, Ariz. She returned to Capitol Hill in 2005 as chief counsel to the Republican policy committee. Shadegg said Lynch “did a tremendous job” when she was working for him and displayed an early passion for criminal law.

In 2006, Lynch joined the House Judiciary Committee Staff and became chief counsel to the crime subcommittee, chaired by Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), in 2008. Having experience in the county prosecutor’s office proved helpful as she worked with members to draft criminal statutes, she said.

A major emphasis at the moment is on “over criminalization” — federal criminal statutes that don’t clearly identify the elements of an offense or put possible offenders on notice that they’re breaking the law. A subcommittee-led task force “is really looking at the art of drafting a criminal offense properly, so that we are identifying that conduct that we truly think is criminal and warrants the treatment as a crime and associated incarceration,” Lynch said.

Other items on Lynch’s plate last year included child-exploitation legislation and oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to collect evidence from journalists. Amid an outcry, Main Justice officials undertook a review of situations warranting subpoenas targeting the press. These days, Lynch is working on cybersecurity legislation and updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

“I get to work on some of the most fascinating issues that come before Congress and certainly some of the most controversial,” she said. “It makes for a very interesting day in my job.” — Zoe Tillman