Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa suffered a political setback Tuesday when an appellate court ruled that a state law giving him power over schools in his city is unconstitutional, the Sacramento Bee reports.

In affirming a lower court decision, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles noted that the California Constitution prohibits transferring authority over public schools to entities outside of the system.

Assembly Bill 1381, the justices wrote in a unanimous decision, was "an attempt to do indirectly what the Legislature is prohibited from doing directly."

The law was shepherded through the Legislature last year by Assembly Speaker Fabian N & #250; & #324;ez and state Sen. Gloria Romero, both Los Angeles Democrats, and signed by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Villaraigosa, a former speaker of the Assembly who is often mentioned as a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010, has made improving the troubled Los Angeles Unified School District a top priority.

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