By Marisa Guthrie
Al Franken, the junior senator from Minnesota and erstwhile Saturday Night Live cast member, opened his queries for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor by noting their mutual admiration for the television program Perry Mason, which starred Raymond Burr as a preternaturally intuitive defense attorney – who never seemed to have a guilty client.
“I was a big fan of Perry Mason. I watched Perry Mason every week with my dad, my mom and my brother. And we watched the clock and we knew that at two minutes to the hour the real killer would stand up and confess,” he said adding, “It amazes me that you wanted to be a prosecutor based on that show because in that show the prosecutor, Hamilton Burger, lost every week, with one exception.”
Franken speculated that Sotomayor’s love of Perry Mason showed her proclivity to “buck the odds,” just like Franken, who won a drawn out legal battle with incumbent Norm Coleman to be seated as the senator from Minnesota.
He pronounced their mutual childhood fandom of Perry Mason and the fact that Franken had made it to the Senate to question Sotomayor, the nominee, “pretty cool.”
But if Franken expected Sotomayor to buck her heretofore custom of not declaring her personal feelings on legal issues, he was disappointed.
Franken’s first question addressed the issue of net neutrality.
“Right now Americans are getting more of their information on the internet,” said Franken. Given the internet’s “central role” in democracy, he continued, commercial interests imposed on internet access “threatens to undermine free speech.”
“This is frightening. Frightening to me and to millions of my constituents, or lots of my constituents,” he said.
“Doesn’t the American public have a compelling interest [in making sure that] the internet stays the internet,” asked Franken.
Sotomayor did not tip her hand, rather she responded with a soliloquy of legalese that revealed no hint of how she might rule on net neutrality.
“Congress is the policy chooser on how items related to interstate commerce and communications operate,” she said. “That issue was reviewed by the courts in the context of the policy choices Congress made. There is no question in my mind that the internet has revolutionized communication in the United States. And there’s no question that access to that is a question that our society is concerned about. The role of the court is not to make the policy it’s to wait until Congress acts.
Sotomayor told Franken that her answer was not indented to “minimize the concerns that you express.”
“The children in my life virtually live on [the internet] now,” she added. “So its importance implicates a lot of different questions: freedom of speech, freedom with respect tot property rights, government regulations. What the court can do is not choose the policy. It just has to figure out what Congress intends.”
“So we’ve got some work to do on this,” Franken concluded.