Franken stumps Sotomayor with 'Perry Mason'

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), the former "Saturday Night Live" comedian, has turned out to be the only member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to stump Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

In the process, he sparked the biggest laughs of the so-far dry hearing, living up to his reputation as a funnyman.

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Franken’s flash of humor was a departure from the cautious approach he has taken to public appearances since coming to the Senate last week after an eight-month legal battle with former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.).

Franken’s straight-man performance has disappointed various members of the media, who have hungered to see Franken’s sharp humor liven up the stuffy Senate.

But Franken gave his fans a tasty tidbit when it came his turn to question the nominee.

While some colleagues have challenged Sotomayor’s comments about the judgment of a “wise Latina” or her view of gun ownership rights, Franken challenged, tongue-in-cheek, Sotomayor’s decision to become a prosecutor after watching "Perry Mason" while growing up.

“It amazes me that you wanted to become a prosecutor based on that show because in 'Perry Mason,' the prosecutor, Burger, lost everything,” Franken said in his trademark deadpan, as laughter spread through the hearing room. “But I think this says something about your determination to defy the odds.”

Franken then quickly turned to the more somber and serious tone that has characterized his short tenure in the upper chamber.

He asked Sotomayor about the First Amendment implications of deregulation of the Internet and the implications for telecom companies that have tried to restrict content. He also asked the nominee about the wonky topic of employer discrimination motivated by cost-cutting goals, such as laying off employees with expensive benefits.

But before wrapping up his question time, Franken returned to "Perry Mason," posing to Sotomayor the only question that has stumped her so far during the Judiciary Committee hearings.  

Franken asked Sotomayor the name of the one case where Mason’s client was actually guilty.

But Sotomayor, for all her knowledge of real-life cases, couldn’t come up with the answer, prompting mock surprise and disappointment from the senator.

“Didn’t the White House prepare you?” Franken quipped as the hearing room burst into laughter.

Sotomayor assured the panel that “I watched it all of the time” but could not remember.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) chimed in and asked Franken the name of the unique television case, but Franken said he couldn’t remember either and explained that was why he asked the nominee.

Leahy assured Sotomayor that her knowledge gap would not affect her confirmation: “Judge, we will not hold your inability to answer the question against you.”