The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Kobylka featured in new PBS series

Political science professor Joe Kobylka will be featured in PBS’s new four-part series, “The Supreme Court,” which premiers tonight at 8 p.m. Kobylka is one of three experts who appears throughout the series, helping to illuminate the history of the Supreme Court.

The series also features interviews with judges John Roberts Jr. and Sandra Day O’Connor and various historians and professors. It also mixes these with historical re-enactions, photos and newsreel footage.

Episodes One and Two will air tonight. The first examines the creation of the Court and follows it through the beginning of the Civil War. Episode Two explores the issues the Court was dealing with after the Civil War during industrialization. Episode Three, which focuses on civil rights cases from the early 1940s to the present, and Episode 4, which deals with President Nixon’s opportunity to name four of the Court’s nine judges, will air Feb. 7.

“The Supreme Court is not a very sexy institution – there’s no equivalent of The West Wing for the Supreme Court,” Kobylka said. “Obviously, since I study it and teach it, I think it’s important.”

Kobylka became involved in the series three years ago, when Producer Ron Rapley called to ask him some questions about the Supreme Court.

“We had one phone conversation about the early part of the court’s history,” Kobylka said. “He liked how I analyzed stuff and put things into context, and he asked me to an interview.”

The series took six years to produce, and Kobylka was involved in the production for three and a half years.

He was flown to Austin twice for interviews, which lasted three hours apiece, and flew to New York in September to critique a rough cut of the series.

Rapley became interested in featuring Kobylka on the series after learning he had won multiple teaching awards, including the Rotunda Outstanding Professor (1986, 1993, 1995, 2002); the Golden Mustang (1990); the SMU “M” Award (1996); and the SMU Student Senate Faculty Member of the Year Award (2004). Kobylka has also received the Altschuler Distinguished Teaching Award (2001).

According to Sophomore Martha Aranda, who’s in Kobylka’s Supreme Court class, his personable and enthusiastic teaching style helps to make course material more accessible.

“You can tell he really enjoys teaching the Supreme Court,” Aranda said. “It’s something he’s really passionate about it.”

The path to becoming a Supreme Court scholar was an unexpected one, but it wasn’t too far from the road he was already on.

“When I was a kid I assumed I’d be an attorney,” Kobylka said. “I went to college thinking I’d go to law school, but I had a really good teacher who made me see things I’d never seen before and I thought I would like to try to do that. So I decided to go to graduate school and kept my interest in law and the courts.”

Although Kobylka has appeared on-screen before – he had a gig as a tree-house folk singer in college, and a lecture series with The Teaching Company was just released in December – this is his first appearance on a nationally syndicated series. Kobylka has also given public lectures about the Supreme Court.

“This is an opportunity to carry the story of the Supreme Court to an even broader audience,” he said.

Kobylka is currently completing a biography on Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

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