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Klobuchar's Contribution: Talking Law With Sotomayor

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But Minnesotans know that Klobuchar is an exceptionally savvy former prosecutor who, herself, could be a credible Supreme Court pick.

An associate editor of the Law Review at the University of Chicago Law School, from which she graduated in 1985, Klobuchar was a highly-regarded partner in the same law firm where former Vice President Walter Mondale worked before her election in 1998 as the Hennepin County (Minneapolis) county attorney in 1998. Before her reelection in 2002 -- with broad backing from Republicans and Democrats -- she was named Minnesota Lawyer magazine's "Attorney of the Year" and served as president of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

Not a bad rà ©sumà © for a judicial nominee.

But Klobuchar used it to get elected in 2006 to the Senate, where she has proven to be a heavy lifter on Judiciary Committee.

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That was evident as the senator from Minnesota prodded Judge Sotomayor to talk about "a specific example of that in your own career as a prosecutor or what goes into your thinking on charging (suspects)."

Judge Sotomayor's answer revealed the nominee as a judge who has reflected well and deeply on legal systems strengths and vulnerabilities:

(Periodically), I would look at the quality of evidence and say, "There's just not enough." I had one case with a individual who was charged with committing a larceny from a woman.

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And his defense attorney came to me and said, "I never, ever do this, but this kid is innocent. Please look at his background. He's a kid with a disability. Talk to his teachers. Look at his life. Look at his record. Here it is." And he gave me the file.

And everything he said was absolutely true. This was a kid with not a blemish in his life. And he said, "Please look at this case more closely."

And I went and talked to the victim, and she -- I had not spoken to her when the case was indicted. This -- this was one of those cases that was transferred to me, and so it was my first time in talking to her. And I let her tell me the story, and it turned out she had never seen who took her pocketbook.

In that case, she saw a young man that the police had stopped in a subway station with a black jacket, and she thought she had seen a black jacket, and identified the young man as the one who had stolen her property. The young man, when he was stopped, didn't run away. He was just sitting there. Her property wasn't on him, and he had the background that he did.

And I looked at that case and took it to my supervisor and said, "I don't think we can prove this case." And my supervisor agreed, and we dismissed the charges.

And yet there are others that I prosecuted, very close cases, where I thought a jury should decide if someone was guilty, and I prosecuted those cases and more often than not got convictions. My point is that that is such a wonderful part of being a prosecutor.

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That TV character (Perry Mason) said something that motivated my choices in life and something that holds true, and that's not to say, by the way -- and I firmly, firmly believe this -- defense attorneys serve a noble role, as well. All participants in this process do: judges, juries, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. We are all implementing the protections of the Constitution.

As senators finish questioning Judge Sotomayor this week, much will be made of the rough-and-tumble exchanges between the nominee and conservative Republican firebrands such as Alabama's Jeff Sessions and Oklahoma's Tom Coburn -- as well as the more congenial questioning by Democratic senators and Republicans such as Hatch and Graham.

But Amy Klobuchar was the senator who got a Supreme Court nominee talking about the law.

* Copyright  © 2009 The Nation

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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