WASHINGTON--Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) asked Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor about influences on her career as a prosecutor. Sotomayor talked about television's Perry Mason in reply. Later, Sen. Al Franken (D-Mn.) (have to get used to calling him senator) also asks her about Perry Mason episodes, wondering if she could name the one episode where Mason, a defense lawyer, lost the case.
Sotomayor is stumped.
"Didn't the White House prepare you for that," said Franken, the comedian now senator who if he took a pledge not to be funny broke it several times at the Wednesday hearing, his first as a senator.
Franken had to confess he did not know either. (Usually one never asks a question like this without knowing the answer.) A few minutes later, Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman assigned to the Sotomayor hearings, e-mailed that it was "The Case of the Deadly Verdict," broadcast on Oct. 17, 1963. Here's a clip:
And here is Sotomayor's riff about Mason, in reply to Kloubchar:
Sotomayor: I was influenced so greatly by a television
show in igniting the passion that I had as being a prosecutor, and it
was "Perry Mason." For the young people behind all of you --
- you may not even know who Perry Mason was. But Perry
Mason was one of the first lawyers portrayed on television, and his
story line is that in all of the cases he tried, except one, he proved
his client innocent and got the actual murderer to confess.
In one of the episodes, at the end of the episode, Perry Mason,
with the character who played the prosecutor in the case, were meeting
up after the case, and Perry said to the prosecutor: It must cause
you some pain, having expended all that effort in your case, to have
the charges dismissed.
And the prosecutor looked up and said: No, my job as a
prosecutor is to do justice, and justice is served when a guilty man
is convicted and when an innocent man is not.
And I thought to myself: That's quite amazing, to be able to
serve that role; to be given a job, as I was by Mr. Morgenthau, a job
I'm eternally grateful to him for, in which I could do what justice
required in an individual case.
And it was not without bounds, because I served a role for
society, and that role was to ensure that the public safety and public
interest were fully represented. But prosecutors in each individual
case, at least in my experience, particularly under the tutelage of
Mr. Morgenthau, was, we did what the law required within the bounds of understanding that our job was not to play to the home crowd, not to
look for public approval, but to look at each case -- in some
respects, like a judge does -- individually.