The state whose lawmakers have been most vocal about the Arizona immigration law to date has been California. Given the history of Prop 187 in this state, it’s not surprising. But I am surprised to see more cautious Democrats get full-throated about the prospect of boycotting Arizona until it rescinds its restrictions.

Darrell Steinberg, the President Pro Tem of the State Senate, pushed for the boycott today.

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said today he has asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to work with him to review all state contracts with Arizona and possibly break them because of Arizona’s new immigration police law.

“That bill is a gross civil-rights violation. We hope it will be overturned by the courts quickly,” said the Sacramento Democrat, who sent a letter to Schwarzenegger today […]

“It’s a civil-rights issue whenever you set somebody aside because of the color of their skin or where they come from,” said Steinberg, who is a lawyer. “And that applies to both legal immigrants, citizens and undocumented immigrants. I mean, how do you define reasonable suspicion? There’s only one way under that law. And it’s somebody who looks Mexican. Period.”

Steinberg even raised the prospect of asking California baseball teams who hold spring training in Arizona to boycott and move their sites next year.

And he’s not alone. In addition to some San Francisco lawmakers calling for boycotts, Janice Hahn of the Los Angeles City Council is introducing a resolution calling on the nation’s second-largest city to “end any and all contracts with Arizona-based companies and to stop doing business with the state.”

There are some politics involved here. Hahn is running for Lt. Governor against a more well-known candidate, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and she’s looking for a way to differentiate herself. But it’s interesting that Democrats throughout California see calling for boycotts as good politics.

The boycott pressure comes as Homeland Security Secretary – and former Arizona Governor – Janet Napolitano hints that the Justice Department may file suit against her home state. Napolitano vetoed a similar bill when she was Governor.

The Department of Justice may challenge a new Arizona immigration law in court, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Tuesday.

The bill would allow law enforcement officers who come into legal contact with individuals to demand proof of legal status if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they might be in the country illegally.

“The Department of Justice is looking at a potential legal challenge and looking at what the kinds of challenges could be,” Naplitano told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell.

She added: “I think it is a very difficult bill to enforce in a racially neutral way.”

So far, Arizona seems to have really stepped in it. And Jan Brewer, who signed the law, doesn’t even seem to be getting much of a bounce in her own state from this – she now polls behind Democrat Terry Goddard in the state.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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