WASHINGTON — When members of Congress have a question about checks and balances — questions that can send one running for 200-year-old documents like the Federalist Papers, James Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention, even the Constitution itself — they often seek the help of a Watertown native whose job it is to sort out the matter.
A weighty task, to be sure, but it's one that Todd M. Garvey, 29, relishes.
“It's like 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,'” said Mr. Garvey, who himself went to Washington in 2009. “It's still the same for me. If I get lazy in my office or if I'm feeling unmotivated, I walk out the door, look at the Capitol, look at the Supreme Court, and say, 'Wow, this is a special place to be.'”
Mr. Garvey, a 2001 Watertown High School graduate, is one of about 40 staff attorneys for the Congressional Research Service, which is part of the Library of Congress. He specializes in separation of powers and issues surrounding nuclear energy.
The research service is often referred to as Congress's think-tank. Any member of Congress or the congressional staff may ask Mr. Garvey for input on proposed legislation or other guidance. He writes nonbinding memoranda, chats on the phone or meets with members and their employees to give presentations about his findings. The research service includes hundreds of other employees, who range from scientists to economists.
Because of confidentiality rules, Mr. Garvey can't say much about the particulars of what he does.
Google, on the other hand, can. Type his name into the search engine and it will spit back news stories, court cases and congressional reports that cite his work.
They represent some of the most high-profile and most partisan debates in Washington; Mr. Garvey must provide his objective legal analysis based on the law. The work provides historical examples and guideposts from statutes and court decisions that help inform Congress on its next steps. For example, Mr. Garvey recently co-authored a memorandum about whether President Barack Obama could allow illegal immigrants who came to the United States as minors to stay here legally. The report suggested the president was on solid constitutional ground based on prosecutorial discretion, but the power was not “unfettered.”
He also co-authored a report about the “law, history, practice and procedure” of contempt proceedings, which came up during contempt proceedings against Attorney General Eric Holder. And he wrote about state secrets and balancing the president's national-security prerogative against civil litigation proceedings.
“For me it's things like, 'The president took X action last week. Did he have the authority to do that? Did that infringe on Congress's power?'” Mr. Garvey explained while standing outside the Library of Congress, a building he described as the most beautiful in all of D.C. He works in a former book depository adjacent to the library, which is next to the Capitol.
Mr. Garvey's father, Jeffrey Garvey, is the director of the medical library at Samaritan Medical Center, so he is involved in plenty of research, too. His mother, Elaine, is the marketing director at the North Country Children's Clinic.
He got his start in government work during a summer internship in 2004 in then-Assemblyman Darrel J. Aubertine's office. After graduating from Colgate University in Hamilton, he worked for a year in the New York state Assembly speaker's office doing political work.
He preferred policy; he got a job at the research service shortly after graduating from William and Mary Law School in Virginia in 2009. He met his wife, Elisha, a Minnesota native, while they were undegraduates at Colgate. They are looking to buy a house in D.C. now.
“I like it where I am,” Mr. Garvey said. “CRS is a place where people tend to stay for their careers.”