WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Al Franken, fresh off a win in a contentous Senate race in Minnesota, found himself at the center of the national political stage Monday as confirmation hearings began for Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
"I know I have a lot to learn from each of you," Franken told the other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Minnesota Democrat also described himself as "truly humbled" to join the committee "which has played and will continue to play such an important role in overseeing our nation's system of justice."
The former cast member of "Saturday Night Live" quickly turned serious during his opening statement.
Pointing out that Monday was his fifth day in office, Franken observed "I am the senator who most recently took the oath of office.
Last Tuesday I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and to bear truth faith and allegiance to it. I take this oath very seriously . . . ."
Franken focused the substance of his opening remarks on the impact of the courts on Americans' lives - and told the packed hearing room that he sees challenges to the rights of Americans as citizens and voters.
"I believe that the position of Congress with respect to the courts and the Executive is in jeopardy."
In what was likely a preview of contentious discussion to come during Sotomayor's hearing, Franken challenged notions of judicial activism and judicial restraint.
"For example, during the [William] Rehnquist Court, Justice Clarence Thomas voted to overturn federal laws more than Justice Stevens and Justice Breyer combined," the new senator said.
Franken also said he was concerned that Americans are facing new barriers to defending their individual rights.
"The Supreme Court is the last court in the land where an individual is promised a level playing field and can seek to right a wrong."
On a number of fronts – including workplace discrimination, securities fraud, free speech online, voting rights, reproductive rights – Franken said "the past decade has made it a little bit harder for American citizens to defend themselves."
Franken ended his remarks by directly addressing Sotomayor.
"I want to learn what you think is the proper relationship between Congress and the courts, between Congress and the Executive. I want to learn how you go about weighing the rights of the individual . . . . and more powerful interests. And I want to hear your views on judicial restraint and activism," he told President Obama's nominee.
Sounds like he's off to a good start.
I hope he goes with his natural inclination to toss in a sarcastic crack or two now and then. It injects a bit of humanity, and humor often speaks to the truth.
But really, I doubt Franken could be funnier than some of the comments of his critics below. They're hysterically hysterical.
Franken just blows me away with his grace and humility. He is a fine example for a U.S. Senator who is well on his way to being a wise statesman and policy force. He obviously doesn't need a job unlike so many politicians who serve themselves instead of the public.
What more can we expect from the folks who elected Jesse Ventura or a nation that actually gives credibility to Oprah Winfrey...we have lost all sense of direction.
Regardless of what he did before, I like him because he is what a Senator is SUPPOSED to be. An Average citizen working for the common good... not a career politician working to get himself re-elected. (when I say average, I mean non-politician)
Personally, I think there should be a cap on how many times a senator can run, similar to how the president can only serve two terms. It helps keep a limit on the amount of influence and corruption can be obtained by one or many people.
Maybe he should ask here how she would have ruled in his election.
Who wrote that for him?
This is a great country. One day you're a clown, the next day you're confirming a Supreme Court Justice.
Besides, clown, we've already witness how she goes weighing the rights of the individual. Just ask the fire fighters.
The one very good thing about Senator Franken is he has not been bought by any lobbyist. He is going to be a great US Senator and someone MN will be very proud of.
You know, his spoken words
"I want to learn what you think is the proper relationship between Congress and the courts, between Congress and the Executive. I want to learn how you go about weighing the rights of the individual . . . . and more powerful interests. And I want to hear your views on judicial restraint and activism,"
almost sound more like what a conservative would ask this woman.
Could he have duped us all ?
I would say the whole state of Minnesota has a lot to learn. What a loser state.
We already had a large number of comedians in congress, this idiot fits right in with the others. Lord help us Americans
Sounds like a winner. We need all the help we could get. And his since of humor should help keep him grounded. I hope he serves our country well.
Congrats to Sen Franken, I'm sure he will serve well. Also, I like that he chose the Employee Free Choice Act as his first legislation to sponsor. Senator Franken will have a very successful and long career.
Ryan July 13th, 2009 5:28 pm ET
Much like the rest of congress, Franken in office is simply a big joke.
Bill July 13th, 2009 5:27 pm ET
Oh Franken, you have alot to learn just like your clueless leader Obamar…
Didn't think it would take long for the Fox News dogs to come in here.
We have a joke as vice-president and a bigger joke now in the senate. The democrats will do whatever to get their 60 votes.
I think Al Franken will be a good Senator. I find it interesting that he's on the Judiciary Committee. He wrote the hilarious SNL skit that mocked the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. You may remember Dana Carvey as Strom Thurman, ranting about how "women don't like that hard core pornography."
This guy is really honest i will support this man to keep out country fair
Senator Franken is a very bright man. Why don't you give him more than a day in office before you start bashing him?
sig, do you know a lot about Minnesota, you seem like the judgemental type, so let me just say to you, your ignorance is overwhelming, you should be so lucky to live in MN.
Oh come on Al, you've been calling these idiots for years. Don't suck up to the woodwork.
As expected AL Franken can not speak intelligently. Every Minnesotan must be so proud of Stuart Smally.
Amazing how crazy conservatives refer to Franken as a clown, yet, adore that clown up in Alaska, who can't even utter a complete sentence.
Oh, let's not forget W
A conscientious elected official? How sweet it is!
@ Bob in PA, who asked "Could he have duped us all ?"
I don't think so. See, the difference between him and one of the foot-stomping tantrum-throwing GOPers is that he meant what he said...it wasn't just cover and code for "I'm going to do everything I can to paint you as a racist and a bench legislator."
those of you making derogatory statements about franekn – implying he is a 'clown' and an 'idiot' and doesn't write his own speeches – you are in for a shock. You obviously don't know AL Franken. He is one of the most politically savvy senators we've had in a long time. You right-wing dittodorks can go on blathering talking points all you want. Time will prove that Franken is the real thing.