John Kerry's Shadow Justice Department

John Kerry has a corps of volunteer lawyers from prestigious D.C. law firms acting as a shadow Justice Department, helping him shape policy positions on justice issues.

The group, headed by Nicholas Gess, of counsel at the D.C. office of Bingham McCutchen, is one of several clusters of well-connected lawyers and policy experts, many of them Clinton administration veterans, relied on by Kerry to brainstorm key issues. ....All of them report to Sarah Bianchi, the campaign's policy director and a former domestic policy adviser to former Vice President Al Gore.

Among the questions before it: How would a Kerry administration handle criminal sentencing? What kind of federal judges would it appoint? How would it strike the balance between civil liberties and national security? What stance would it take on gay marriage and civil unions?

The group includes plenty of Washington insiders who helped run the DOJ the last time the Democrats were in power. And often, when a new president is making key appointments, he looks to people who have helped him in the campaign.

Actually, there are lawyers in all fields helping out the Kerry campaign:

Other groups, larded with lawyers from the D.C. offices of such firms as Arnold & Porter; Latham & Watkins; Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo; and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, focus on issues like economics or foreign policy.

Then there's the lawyer-helpers on trade, regulatory, environmental, foreign policy and national security issues. Take the national security team--it set up a mini-National Security Council:

"We have a weekly conference call, write position papers, and do opposition research on the Bush administration."

We haven't heard of any other candidate having such a broad base of policy experts. And, of course, there's a reason for it--employment opportunities in the new Kerry Administration. As one lawyer, Jeffrey Liss, says, he's been running something of a Kerry job referral service lately:

Lately I've had a bunch of people, former Clinton administration types, approach me and say, 'Can you plug me in?' Liss says. "That happens all the time in D.C., and I've done that for them. But the pace of it has certainly picked up in the past several weeks."

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