Published Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 | 2:31 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015 | 5:39 p.m.
CARSON CITY — Gov. Brian Sandoval said Wednesday that he doesn't think he legally can override the state's challenge to an order that would spare more people from deportation, but he plans to talk with Attorney General Adam Laxalt about it in the next few days.
Sandoval made the comment Wednesday at an unrelated event in Carson City that took place just before a coalition of liberal groups launched a protest at Laxalt's Las Vegas office. While Sandoval didn't give prior consent to Nevada joining the suit, which includes 25 other states as plaintiffs, it's not uncommon for attorneys general to pursue lawsuits on their own.
Critics said Sandoval should have done more to rein in Laxalt, a fellow Republican whom he endorsed in the past election, especially on such a heated issue.
"He's the governor. He can't act like he has no control over anything," said spokeswoman Laura Martin of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, one of the groups involved in the protest. "Stop being aloof and be a governor."
Laxalt announced Monday that Nevada would challenge President Barack Obama's order to shield millions from deportation and allow them to apply for work permits. Obama promoted the move at a Las Vegas high school in November.
The attorney general acknowledged that the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed but argued that the president was going about it illegally.
"The president cannot bypass the peoples' elected representatives in Congress just because they do not pass the laws he wants, nor can he simply rewrite current law under the guise of 'prosecutorial discretion,'" Laxalt said.
Obama has defended himself by pointing to his Democratic and Republican predecessors and saying presidents exercise "prosecutorial discretion all the time."
Laxalt's move to join the lawsuit drew sharp criticism from Democrats, including Nevada Sen. Harry Reid.
"This is embarrassing," Reid said in a statement. "No other state in the country will benefit more from President Obama's executive actions than Nevada. The irresponsible decision to join a lawsuit that will cause family separation is harmful to our communities."
An estimated 7.6 percent of Nevada residents are living in the country illegally — the largest share of any state, according to the Pew Research Center. Politicians are typically sensitive to how their immigration moves will appear to Nevada's sizeable bloc of Hispanic voters, and Sandoval takes a more moderate tone on the matter than some Republican governors.
"Gov. Sandoval continues to encourage Congressional leadership and President Obama to work toward passing a bipartisan solution," his spokeswoman, Mari St. Martin, said Monday. "He continues to believe that the best course of action is a legislative solution rather than legal action."
While attorneys general at the federal level are typically in lockstep with the presidents who appoint them, the offices are elected separately in Nevada and an attorney general is independent of the governor.
What is more intriguing in this case is that while both men are Republicans and Sandoval supported Laxalt's heated race for attorney general, their positions on immigration diverge.
"It's politically a more interesting question than legally," said Michael Kagan, an associate professor at Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. "It shows two different visions in the Republican Party."