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Posted Aug. 23, 2010

James Tysse '06 Awarded U.S. Supreme Court Fellowship

Tysse

James Tysse ’06 has been selected as one of four U.S. Supreme Court fellows for the 2010-11 session. Beginning in September, he will research sentencing guidelines for the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Tysse said he got a call in February from the executive director of the Supreme Court Fellows Program.

“He asked if I would like to take the fellowship at the Sentencing Commission. Of course, I told him I’d love to, and I was flattered, honored and very grateful,” Tysse said. “There was some short-lived celebrating before I ran home to my wife and kids, where more celebration ensued.”

A nine-member commission appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. selected the four fellows after eight finalists visited Washington, D.C., in late January for an orientation session, reception and individual interviews with the commission. Chief Justice Warren Burger created the program in 1973 to give participants an up-close understanding of the federal government, particularly the judicial branch.

The eight finalists endured a grueling two-day interview process that included a panel discussion with former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and then-Solicitor General Elena Kagan. The finalists dined in the great hall of the Supreme Court and met with the chief justice.

 “The process was a challenge but an exhilarating experience,” Tysse said. “It was a tremendous honor and I am grateful for the opportunity. I was very pleasantly surprised by the award.”

Tysse credited Director of Judicial Clerkships Ruth Payne and Assistant Dean for Public Service Yared Getachew for assisting him with the fellowship process.

 “I’m interested in sentencing issues and federal law, so this fellowship is a unique way to learn and help the Sentencing Commission fulfill its directives,” Tysse said.

This is a critical time for sentencing guidelines, he said. “The regime has changed. The guidelines were mandatory until 2005 when the Supreme Court, through a series of opinions, made the guidelines effectively advisory. Judges are now free within certain reasonable grounds to sentence as they wish.”

However, the Sentencing Commission still provides an invaluable service, Tysse said, as judges respect and often follow the the sentencing guidelines. .

“UVA Law made this position possible,” Tysse said. “The thing I loved about UVA was the passion that the students, professors and staff brought to the study of the law.”

In particular, Tysse credited Professor Thomas Hafemeister’s Psychiatry and Criminal Law class as sparking his interest in issues related to criminal law and sentencing.

“He mentored me through writing a couple of articles related to psychiatry and criminal law,” Tysse said.

Hafemeister recalled Tysse as a focused and driven student, and said it is no surprise he has done so well.

"Wherever he goes, I anticipate that he will ask up front what he needs to do to succeed, and then he will marshal his significant abilities to meet and exceed those goals," Hafemeister said. "At the same time, he was very collegial and my guess is that people enjoy working with him."

Professor John Jeffries, who was dean when Tysse was a student, was also a tremendous influence and resource for advice who Tysse credited with helping him in his career and development as a young lawyer.

“James is an extremely able young lawyer,” Jeffries said. “Selection as a Supreme Court fellow is an honor, and I'm delighted that James will have this opportunity.”

The fellowship opens up new possibilities for his law career, Tysse said. “I can continue to practice or perhaps go to work on Capitol Hill.”

Tysse recently clerked for Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. He lives in Falls Church, Va., with his wife and their two sons.

Reported by tim arnold