In his first major appearance as US senator, Al Franken was humble and solicitous in his opening statement at Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
He praised the leadership of committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and pledged to Jeff Sessions, the top Republican, to follow the example of the late Paul Wellstone in working across the aisle
Franken, who was sworn in last week as Minnesota's junior senator after a protracted legal battle over the November election, said he watched nomination hearings over the years as a private citizen, and like many Americans, learned about the Constitution and the role of the courts.
"I may not be a lawyer, but neither are the vast majority of Americans," but all Americans are affected by the high court's decisions, he said.
Franken, a former comedian, said he opposes judicial activism as well, but it's the conservatives on the Supreme Court who are guilty of it these days.
He also noted that Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who stepped aside from the judiciary panel to focus on a healthcare overhaul as he battles brain cancer, was not at a confirmation hearing for the first time since 1965.
"We do miss his presence," Franken said.
UPDATE: Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said he missed Kennedy as well, along with Joe Biden, now the vice president.
"I miss the bombast," Hatch told the Globe's Susan Milligan. "They added a lot of spirit to the Supreme Court nomination hearings. I'll tell you, I miss them both.
"Ted is such an institution...the leading liberal member in the history of the Senate, a person who can spew out bombast, but also someone who has a great sense of humor -- he can defuse problems" Hatch added.
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Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.