Arizona Governor Removes State's Top Attorney From Defense of Immigration Law

Gov. Jan Brewer has pushed aside the state's attorney general in Arizona's defense of its new law clamping down on illegal immigrants, accusing him of conspiring with the Obama administration as it considers whether to sue the state.

Brewer issued a statement late Friday night saying her legal team will defend the state against lawsuits challenging the measure. She invoked a provision in the law to have private attorneys represent the state. They already are representing her in some of the legal challenges to the law that name her as a defendant.

But Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard says Brewer can't kick him off the case. Goddard's top aide, Tim Nelson, said Saturday that Brewer can't invoke the provision because it hasn't taken effect yet and that there are constitutional questions.

"We have real concerns about the constitutionality of that," Nelson said. "It's an open question."

Brewer's decision came after Justice Department officials met with Goddard -- a Democrat who will likely challenge Brewer, a Republican, in her re-election bid -- before meeting with her legal team.

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"For some inexplicable reason, the Department of Justice officials met with the Arizona attorney general hours before meeting with the state of Arizona's legal team, and then allowed the attorney general to hold a press conference to discuss the meeting," she said in the statement.

"This level of coordination between the attorney general and the Obama administration is disturbingly similar to the coordination with Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford earlier this week on President Obama's still unclear plan to deploy up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border," she said.

Justice officials told Goddard and later Brewer's team that the Obama administration is prepared to go to court if necessary in a bid to block the new law, which takes effect July 29.

Even though Goddard has criticized the law, he vowed to defend it after the meeting.

"While Senate bill 1070 is far from perfect, it is a response to a very serious problem," he said at the news conference. "I told the lawyers that it would be just plain wrong for the federal government to sue to stop Arizona from dealing with something that the federal government has ignored for so many years."

But Brewer wasn't convinced, saying the immigration law she signed gave her the authority to assemble the state's legal team because of the Legislature's "lack of confidence" in Goddard's "willingness to vigorously defend this legislation that is so critical to protecting the safety and welfare of Arizona's citizens."

"Due to Attorney General Goddard's curious coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice today and his consistent opposition to Arizona's new immigration laws, I will direct my legal team to defend me and the state of Arizona rather than the attorney general in the lawsuits challenging Arizona's immigration laws," she said.

Brewer's legal team told Justice officials that Arizona's law would be "vigorously defended all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary," she said, adding that the officials "were advised that I believe the federal government should use its legal resources to fight illegal immigration, not the state of Arizona."

Obama and his top officials have expressed concern that the new law may be unconstitutional and will promote racial profiling.

Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller noted that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with a number of police chiefs Wednesday in Washington "to hear their concerns about the impact of the Arizona law on their ability to keep communities safe.

"We continue to have concerns that the law drives a wedge between law enforcement and the communities they serve and are examining it to see what options are available to the federal government," Miller said.

While numerous police chiefs have criticized the law, several Arizona associations representing rank-and-file police officers support it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.