The attorney for an antiillegal immigration group asked the state Court of Appeals on Tuesday to force state officials to deny virtually all public benefits to those not here legally.
David Abney argued that Attorney General Terry Goddard was wrong when he issued a legal opinion that Proposition 200, approved by voters in 2004, only makes a small number of health and welfare “public benefits’’ offlimits to illegal immigrants.
He wants the Court of Appeals to order Goddard to rescind his opinion and issue a broader one.
That argument was viewed with skepticism by some of the judges. Judge G. Murray Snow questioned the authority of any court to overturn what essentially is an “advisory opinion’’ by Goddard to his clients, meaning various state agencies.
But Abney pointed out that Gov. Janet Napolitano ordered the agencies to follow what Goddard said, essentially translating what had been purely an opinion into force of law.
Randy Pullen, chairman of the Yes on 200 Committee, was more direct in comments after the hearing.
He charged that Goddard and Napolitano “colluded and came up with a scheme in order to eviscerate implementation of Prop. 200.’’
Pullen conceded he has no actual evidence of such collusion. He pointed out, though, that both Goddard and Napolitano opposed Proposition 200.
And Pullen noted that three months before the election — while Napolitano was campaigning against the initiative — she released documents showing that it would cost tens of millions of dollars for state agencies to comply with it because they would have to verify the legal status of everyone from people having their vehicles tested at emission stations to those wanting to visit state parks.
It was only after the election that the state took a much narrower view of the initiative.
Goddard’s opinion — and Napolitano’s executive order — said only a handful of welfare programs are affected.
Goddard specifically said that other programs, such as the state’s health care program for the poor, were not covered.
Assistant attorney general Mary O’Grady said Goddard has broad legal authority to issue opinions.
That also was the conclusion reached last year by a lower court judge.
But Judge Jefferson Lankford pointed out that initiative supporters were also challenging how state agencies, following Goddard’s opinion and Napolitano’s order, actually implemented the initiative.
He noted, for example, that the state Department of Housing concluded none of its programs requires proof of legal residency.
Lankford said even if Abney can’t force Goddard to change his opinion, he may be able to challenge the failure of state agencies to demand proof of legal residency when administering certain programs.
O’Grady conceded the point but insisted that Abney would have to make specific complaints about each program.
The court gave no indication when it would rule.
Whichever side loses is expected to take the case to the Supreme Court.