Gov. Jan Brewer is threatening to have Attorney General Terry Goddard blocked from interfering in what could be the most broad-based challenge to the state's new immigration law.
In a letter Monday to Goddard, the governor asked him to step aside "so my legal team can set forth the best defense possible in the immigration lawsuits currently before the federal district court.''
But Brewer said she's not counting on his cooperation.
"If you do not withdraw your motion to intervene ... I will pursue all legal remedies available to me to have you removed as counsel for the state of Arizona to ensure the state a true and proper defense,'' Brewer wrote.
Goddard, who has opposed the immigration law, said he has no intention of withdrawing. That will leave it up to a federal judge to decide who gets to speak for the state.
And he said Brewer is off base in presuming that only her privately hired attorneys are able to defend the legality of the statute.
Monday's letter is the latest dust-up between the pair who, if Brewer wins the Republican primary, will face off in the general election for governor. And it points up that the new immigration law will be a key issue.
Goddard opposed SB 1070 when it was first passed by the Legislature and signed by Brewer. It requires police to check the immigration status of those they have stopped if there is "reasonable suspicion'' the person is in this country legally. Another provision makes being an illegal immigrant a state crime.
In fact, Goddard said in April he would not personally be involved in defending the law against the anticipated lawsuits because he is campaigning against Brewer and publicly called on her to veto the measure. Those determinations, he said, would be made independently by his chief deputy.
Brewer, in her Monday letter, said Goddard's comments "leave me and the citizens of Arizona with serious doubt as to your ability to defend the state in these legal challenges.''
But Goddard said Monday those comments all came before lawmakers subsequently made some changes that he said made the law legally defensible. One specifically prohibits police from using race as a factor in determining who to question; the other says people can be questioned only after they have been stopped by police for some other reason.
"I believe it can be defended as being within the state's powers under the constitution,'' he told Capitol Media Services.
Goddard said, though, that doesn't mean he necessarily supports the law, even in its amended form.
"You know perfectly well there's a huge difference between whether you think it's a good idea and whether you believe there's a feasible and professional defense that can be made under the constitution,'' he said. "And that is exactly the position I've taken.''
Those amendments to SB 1070 also specifically gave Brewer permission to direct the defense of the law as well as to hire outside counsel rather than have Goddard's office handle the case.
Goddard noted, though, those changes, like the original law, do not take effect until July 29. In the interim, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Law Center and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund want an order barring the overall law from taking effect.
Four other lawsuits also have been filed challenging all or part of the law.