MSNBC’s Alter: Justice Stevens ‘Great Intellect’ ‘Makes Scalia Look Like a Pygmy,’ ‘Hypocrisy’ on GOP Court

On Monday’s Countdown show, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter – also of Newsweek – claimed that liberal Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is, in fact, a "moderate" who has such "great intellect" that he makes conservative Justice Antonin Scalia "look like a pygmy." Alter: "Justice Stevens is the great intellect on the court in our generation. He makes, say, Scalia look like a pygmy, intellectually, despite all of his fireworks that Scalia gives off. Stevens was an appointee of Republican Gerald Ford. But he`s always been a moderate who has tried to interpret the law, which is his job, in an intellectually honest way."

Alter also charged that the Republican majority on the Supreme Court constitutes a "hypocrisy court" as he claimed that Republican justices support judicial activism. Alter: "For a generation, they`ve been saying they don`t want to legislate from the bench. Now, they are the hypocrisy court. The majority, the Republican majority is the hypocrisy court. They`ve completely turned on a dime. They now believe in judicial activism. So pretty much anything that they would try to say, any argument they would try to have against an Obama nominee would be intellectually empty, because the argument that they`ve been making against liberals is completely bankrupt after these recent very activist, conservative decisions."

While it is an illustration of just how far left Alter’s views are if he sees Justice Stevens as a moderate, it is noteworthy that last November, as he recounted that conservatives like former Congressman Bob Barr, Grover Norquist and David Keene are "principled conservatives" as they disagreed with Rudy Giuliani on the trying of terrorist suspects in civilian courts, Alter admitted to disagreeing with conservatives 98 percent of the time. Alter: "But, you know, they are principled conservative – even if you disagree, as I do with, you know, 98 percent of what they stand for."

Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Monday, April 5, Countdown show on MSNBC:

KEITH OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. The fate of Washington, D.C., this summer, our national discourse, and potentially the outcome of the November elections lies tonight, at least partially, in the hands of a man who turns 90 years old in 15 days, and whether or not he`s going to retire. Our fifth story tonight: Justice John Paul Stevens, the man who led the Supreme Court`s opposition to the Bush/Cheney attack on civil liberties at Guantanamo Bay in U.S. courtrooms and within secret holding cells around the world, now says he is deciding whether to retire this year or next, opening a gap on the increasingly divided court and sparking a nomination battle in the increasingly divided Senate.

Justice Stevens lived through Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II and watched Babe Ruth`s famous alleged called shot from behind third base at Wrigley Field. Appointed by President Ford, confirmed 98-zip by the Senate, Stevens is considered by today`s right wing as a liberal, having used his position as senior justice to marshal support for gay rights, abortion rights, and due process in the war against terror. Now suffering from nothing worse than a little arthritis, but with his 90th birthday on the 20th of this month, Stevens is considering when to step down, a departure bigger than just one man. The New Yorker writing, quote, "When Stevens leaves, the Supreme Court will be just another place where Democrats and Republicans fight."

Indeed, his departure is likely to spark just a fight like that. Democratic Senator Arlen Specter sending a not-too-subtle plea yesterday asking Stevens to help Democrats avoid a nomination battle, a battle Republican Senator Jon Kyl did not exactly rule out.

SENATOR ARLEN SPECTER (D-PA): I hope, to begin a little earlier, that Justice Stevens does not retire this year. I think the gridlock in the Senate might well produce a filibuster which would tie up the Senate on a Supreme Court nominee. I think if a year passes, there`s a much better chance we could come to a consensus.

SENATOR JON KYL (R-AZ): If he doesn`t nominate someone who is overly ideological, I think you may see Republicans voting against the nominee, but I don`t think you`ll see them engage in a filibuster.

OLBERMANN: Of course, that depends on what the definition of ideological is. And the newspaper Roll Call reports that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell is using the Easter break to decide whether his party should go obstructionist on the looming fight over financial regulations. Roll Call reporting that if the White House insists on what the GOP considers overregulating Wall Street, McConnell wants a united front in opposition, even though some Republicans fear Democrats are hoping for the fight. This after Christina Romer, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, expressed confidence yesterday that Democrats can still pick up some Republican support.

And the Los Angeles Times reported that President Obama hopes to avoid another divisive, bruising partisan battle, at least until after the November elections. That strategy, however, apparently side-lining only immigration and climate change. Not Wall Street, nor are Republicans waiting for Mr. Obama or Mr. McConnell to set the strategy on Wall Street. On the issue of unemployment benefits, Senator Bunning is not only once again blocking their extension, he and Senator Tom Coburn are now blaming Democrats for this because Democrats refused their demand to use stimulus money to pay for it. Let`s turn now to MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, also, of course, national affairs columnist for Newsweek magazine. Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN: All right. This premise that was posited in the New Yorker piece, that Justice Stevens` departure means more than just the loss of one vote. Explain that.

ALTER: Well, first of all, Justice Stevens is the great intellect on the court in our generation. He makes, say, Scalia look like a pygmy, intellectually, despite all of his fireworks that Scalia gives off. Stevens was an appointee of Republican Gerald Ford.

OLBERMANN: Yes, yeah.

ALTER: But he`s always been a moderate who has tried to interpret the law, which is his job, in an intellectually honest way. And you do get the sense that this idea of trying to sort of build majorities across ideological lines on the court is becoming a thing of the past. There are some very talented justices still on the court, but they don`t have Stevens` ability to work with people, I don`t want to say both sides of the aisle, because they don`t have an aisle at the court, but on the different ideological extremes of the court to bring them together as Stevens has done in many, many cases over the years.

OLBERMANN: Specter`s appeal to Stevens to wait until after the election. Is that to wait until after the election or just that things will be calmer somehow politically in the country in 2011 than they are in 2010?

ALTER: Well, it`s the latter. I happen to think Senator Specter is mistaken about this, because you know, the Democrats are only, as we all know, only one vote shy of having a filibuster-proof majority. After the midterm elections, they might be a few votes shy. And should the Republicans filibuster, as they`re threatening to do, it would be easier to get a nominee, like Stevens, to replace him on the court before the midterms. It would be easier to survive a filibuster before the midterms.

OLBERMANN: Can the Republicans as easily filibuster as might be theorized in these times, isn`t there some -- anything left from, say, Gerald Ford remaining proud of this appointment until the day he died, that he thought it was one of the great things he did during his brief presidency? Isn`t there some residual effect from that this Republican Party has to honor about that Republican Party?

ALTER: Well, if he appoints, if President Obama appoints somebody who Justice Stevens believes is in his mold, then it would be a little bit harder from, for some of the more reasonable Republicans in the Senate to oppose it. And I think it would be quite difficult for them to successfully filibuster somebody that President Obama names. If you look at the short lists that have been put together, I think any of those nominees would be able to survive a filibuster.

OLBERMANN: And Kyl`s remarks, they want judicial restraint, that means Citizens United, or it means no Democrat, or no one with any liberal bent, what does it mean?

ALTER: He`s just trying to fire a shot across Obama`s bow, saying, don`t nominate anybody too liberal. But they`re so hypocritical now. Remember, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said when he was at his confirmation hearings, "I`m only calling balls and strikes. I`m just interpreting the law." For a generation, they`ve been saying they don`t want to legislate from the bench. Now, they are the hypocrisy court. The majority, the Republican majority is the hypocrisy court. They`ve completely turned on a dime. They now believe in judicial activism. So pretty much anything that they would try to say, any argument they would try to have against an Obama nominee would be intellectually empty, because the argument that they`ve been making against liberals is completely bankrupt after these recent very activist, conservative decisions.

OLBERMANN: So, given how true that is, we can expect them not to do that. MSNBC political analyst Jon Alter, of Newsweek, great thanks as always for coming in.

ALTER: Thanks, Keith.