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Ariz gov. bypasses attorney general on immigration lawsuits

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Arizona governor bypasses state AG to defend state against suits
  • Several lawsuits filed against Arizona over its new immigration law
  • Arizona AG Terry Goddard opposes the law
  • Federal government considering suit against Arizona

(CNN) -- Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona has bypassed Attorney General Terry Goddard and will rely on other lawyers to defend the state against lawsuits challenging its controversial law targeting illegal immigration, according to a statement.

The legislature gave Brewer the power to hire outside counsel "because of its lack of confidence in the Attorney General's willingness to vigorously defend" the law, she said in the statement.

Her statement referred to Goddard's opposition to the new immigration law, which lets police officers check the residency status of anyone who is being investigated for a crime or possible legal infraction if there is reasonable suspicion the person is in the United States illegally.

Critics, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, have said the law will promote racial profiling. Several lawsuits have been filed to challenge the law. The federal government is considering whether to file a lawsuit of its own.

The governor's statement came after the U.S. Justice Department sent an assistant attorney general and several other key officials to Arizona on Friday to emphasize federal reservations about the new law.

The federal officials met separately in Phoenix with Goddard, a Democrat, and aides to Brewer, a Republican.

"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," said Justice spokeswoman Hannah August.

After the Justice Department visit -- and before the governor said she would bypass him -- Goddard said in a statement that he told the federal lawyers that Arizona would "fight back" if the federal government sued Arizona.

"The people of Arizona are deeply frustrated by the federal government's inability to enact comprehensive immigration reform," he said.

The governor said she acted due to Goddard's "curious coordination with the U.S. Department of Justice ... and his consistent opposition to Arizona's new immigration laws."