A few hours later, with Romney in Arizona for fundraising events, spokesman Rick Gorka met reporters on board the candidate’s plane. What followed was an excruciating back-and-forth in which the reporters pressed Gorka to say whether Romney agreed or disagreed with the decision. Gorka wouldn’t go along. “The governor believes the states have the rights to craft their own immigration laws, especially when the federal government has failed to do so,” Gorka said. But did Romney have a specific reaction to the Arizona decision? The spokesman wouldn’t say, no matter how many times the question was asked. …

In Romney’s defense, Arizona v. United States was a difficult decision for both sides to digest, because it sent a profoundly mixed message. On the one hand, the court said clearly that the “show me your papers” provision can go into effect. If there is some sort of problem once it is in practice — and there will inevitably be allegations of profiling — then the courts can consider those. But for now, it’s OK. …

On the other hand, in striking down other provisions of the law, the court sent a clear message that states cannot pass their own immigration measures even if those measures do not conflict with federal law. “After this ruling, there is very little that states can do to try to make up for ineffective federal enforcement of immigration laws,” says former Scalia clerk Ed Whalen. “While there was a lot of controversy over [‘show me your papers’], it doesn’t confer any authority the states didn’t already have.”