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Franken handles Senate debut with a light touch

  • Story Highlights
  • Democrat Al Franken is Minnesota's newest senator
  • Franken asks both serious and funny questions at Sonia Sotomayor's hearing
  • Franken's new role is amusing his old pals on the comedy circuit
From Jessica Yellin
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was the role of a lifetime for comedian-turned-inquisitor Sen. Al Franken this week during Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination hearings.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, is the Senate Judiciary Committee's newest member.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, is the Senate Judiciary Committee's newest member.

The Senate's newest star seemed comfortable in front of the cameras, but less at ease with Senate procedure.

In one instance, Franken looked to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, to approve a request.

"I would ask for it to be entered into the record ... can I enter it into the record?" Franken asked. He was given the green light to go ahead.

Franken's national debut is also amusing his old peers on the comedy circuit.

"I just kept expecting 'Live from New York!'" said Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show" this week.

Franken is also giving his new peers in the Senate a laugh -- especially after an incident where the newly minted Minnesota senator switched seats with the committee chairman. Video Watch more on Franken's big debut »

But Franken also hit serious notes, reading from a pocket Constitution, asking Sotomayor about the Voting Rights Act; whether Internet access should be protected; asking for the definition of an activist judge.

He even went where the administration didn't want Democrats to go by pressing the judge on abortion rights -- arguing that abortion rights don't have to be written into the Constitution to be protected.

"Are the words 'birth control' in the Constitution?" Franken asked. Sotomayor responded, "No, sir."

Franken then pressed the judge: "Are the words 'privacy' in the Constitution or the word?" Sotomayor said the word "privacy" is not.

But the watercooler moment of the hearing came when he asked the judge -- who'd revealed she's a lifelong fan of the TV show "Perry Mason" -- to name one case Mason lost. She couldn't.

"And you don't remember that case?" he asked.

Sotomayor responded: "I know that I should remember the name of it, but I haven't looked at the episode."

Franken followed up with this tongue-in-cheek question: "Didn't the White House prepare you for that?"


Nonetheless, the senator says he's pleased with Sotomayor's answers and plans to vote to confirm her.

And on the Perry Mason case question, CNN found that, according to the Perry Mason TV show book, he actually lost three cases. But in one of the cases, despite a guilty verdict, the client was ultimately set free.

All About Al FrankenSonia SotomayorU.S. Senate

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