Plaintiffs trying to preserve a new Maryland law granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants have narrowed their legal challenge to an opposition petition drive.
However, the opponents still allege that the in-state tuition law cannot be the subject of a referendum.
The Maryland General Assembly passed an in-state tuition bill in April, and Gov. Martin O'Malley signed it into law. To qualify, illegal immigrants must meet a series of standards, such as graduating from a Maryland high school, then attending a community college.
But a group called MdPetitions.com forced a referendum on the issue in the 2012 general election, putting the law on hold until voters decide.
MdPetitions.com submitted 108,923 signatures that were considered valid — roughly twice the required minimum.
About one-third of the signatures were obtained through a website that retrieved voter information from a database, lessening the chance of having an invalid petition.
Casa de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy organization, was among the plaintiffs who sued the Maryland State Board of Elections and the state's secretary of state to invalidate the petition drive.
The plaintiffs — who also include two unnamed illegal immigrants — challenged the successful referendum effort on two grounds.
One was that the referendum organizers used an illegitimate online signature-gathering process and also collected other invalid signatures in person.
On that point, Joseph Sandler, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the website system was the main concern. However, the plaintiffs realized that even if all of the signatures collected through the website process were invalidated, there still would be enough signatures for the referendum effort to succeed, he said.
"This is a fantastic victory for the citizens of Maryland" and for volunteers across the state who worked on the referendum drive, Del. Neil C. Parrott, chairman of MdPetitions.com, said Thursday.
Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Baltimore/Harford, also was a central figure in the petition effort.
Judicial Watch, a self-described conservative, nonpartisan educational foundation, is representing MdPetitions.com, which has been allowed to intervene in the case.
The plaintiffs' second point of contention, which remains active, is that the in-state tuition law is an appropriations measure and, as such, not subject to referendum.
But Parrott predicted that the plaintiffs will also lose on that point. The in-state tuition bill didn't go through the appropriations committee process in the General Assembly and doesn't include any provisions for funding, he said.
A motions hearing is scheduled for Jan. 27 in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis.