"What we're saying is that they cannot pass laws that are inconsistent with the federal laws, or do things that contravene federal policy when it comes to the enforcement of our immigration laws," Holder said. "And the Arizona statute, if you look at the guts of it, really puts in place a whole variety of things that are inconsistent with what we have decided to do as a federal government."
The Arizona law in question makes it a state crime for a person to be in the country illegally. It requires local law enforcement during all "lawful stops" to question a person about his or her immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that person may be in the country illegally. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer called the federal suit against the law " " and has vowed to fight it.
Brewer has said the state was forced to act in the absence of federal enforcement of immigration laws.
"I understand, first off, the frustration of the people of Arizona and the concerns that they have with regard to the amount of illegal immigration that occurs," Holder told Schieffer. "But the solution that the Arizona legislature came up with is inconsistent with our federal Constitution."
The debate over the immigration law has largely fallen along partisan lines, but Holder said it was "not true at all" that the lawsuit was politically motivated.
"The basis for this was a legal determination by those of us at the Justice Department that the law was inconsistent with the Constitution," he said. "And there, I think one has to also understand that there are a substantial number of Republicans and people in law enforcement who thought that the decision that we made to file this lawsuit was, in fact, the correct one."
Some opponents of the law have focused on the argument that it could lead to racial discrimination. Holder said, however, that at this time, the Justice Department's argument based in preemption is stronger at this time.
"It doesn't mean that if the law, for whatever reason, happened to go into effect that six months from now, a year from now, we might not look at the impact the law has had and... see whether or not there has been that racial profiling impact," he said. "And if that was the case, we would have the tools, and we would bring suit on that basis."