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Why the Supreme Court ruling on immigration is a clear rebuke to Arizona

Both sides of the immigration debate claim victory, but the court not only accepted virtually all of the Obama administration’s arguments, it also rejected Arizona’s primary contention that local police have 'inherent' authority to enforce federal immigration laws.

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks to the media about the Supreme Court decision on the Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, June 25 in Phoenix. Op-ed contributor Ben Winograd says that 'regardless of what Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer or other supporters of the law might say, Monday’s ruling...provides a clear sign that states have little, if any, leeway to enact laws like SB 1070.'

Nick Oza/The Arizona Republic/AP

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Monday’s mixed Supreme Court decision on the Arizona immigration law has allowed both sides to claim victory. But make no mistake: The court’s ruling represents a stinging rebuke for supporters of SB 1070 and other state immigration laws.

The majority opinion not only accepted virtually all of the Obama administration’s legal arguments, it also rejected Arizona’s primary contention that local police have “inherent” authority to enforce the immigration laws. And while the court permitted one part of SB 1070 to go into effect, it effectively invited future litigants to challenge its application in court.

Thus, regardless of what Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer or other supporters of the law might say, Monday’s ruling – which was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, both Republican appointees – provides a clear sign that states have little, if any, leeway to enact laws like SB 1070. (Although the final vote was 5-3, the margin would have likely been 6-3 had Justice Elena Kagan not recused herself.)

Contrary to popular belief, the question before the justices was not whether Arizona’s law violated the Constitution, but whether it conflicted with federal law. Of the four sections under consideration, the court found three were indeed “preempted” by Congress.

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