Senior Official: Obama Administration Will Challenge Arizona Immigration Law

CBS/AP

Updated 3:56 p.m. Eastern Time

As Hotsheet reported yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a television interview in Ecuador this month that the Obama Justice Department "will be bringing a lawsuit" against the controversial Arizona immigration measure signed into law earlier this year.

The comment was striking because both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder had said only that the administration was considering a suit. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed the law, called Clinton's comments stunningand added that "to learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the secretary of state is just outrageous." She has said in the past she is prepared for a court fight.

It was unclear yesterday whether Clinton's comments were simply a prediction or mistake or whether instead she was getting ahead of a planned announcement by the administration.

Now a senior administration official tells CBS News that the federal government will indeed formally challenge the law when Justice Department lawyers are finished building the case. The official said Justice is still working on building the case.

Contacted about Clinton's comments today, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said they reflected her beliefs.

"The Secretary was asked about the Arizona law during a TV interview in Ecuador," he said. "She believes that a better approach is comprehensive immigration reform, and said so. Regarding how far along the legal review is, that is a matter for the Department of Justice."

Despite the senior administration official's comments, an official at the Justice Department told CBS News today that the question of whether to sue is still under consideration.

The Arizona law, which would go into effect in July, requires immigrants in the state to carry documents verifying their immigration status and requires police officers to question a person about his or her immigration status during a "lawful stop" if there is "reasonable suspicion" that person may be in the country illegally.

CBS News polling has found that a majority of Americans support the Arizona law, which has spawned protests and boycotts.

Brewer said following her meeting with Mr. Obama earlier this month that the president "brushed over" the possibility of a lawsuit during their discussion. A suit would likely focus on the notion that the legislation is discriminatory and infringes on civil liberties.

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