The Maryland “Dream Act” is bound for more courtroom colloquy before appellate judges decide whether voters will settle the issue via the ballot.
Attorneys trying to prevent a November referendum said today they will appeal last week's ruling in Anne Arundel Circuit Court that the Dream Act doesn't meet the Maryland Constitution's provisions that exempt appropriations bills from a ballot-box challenge.
Signed into law in May, the Dream Act would qualify certain illegal immigrants for in-state tuition at Maryland community colleges. A trio of Republican legislators spearheaded a statewide petition drive that easily tallied enough signatures to block the Dream Act’s July 1 start date and put the issue to voters in November.
In August, a coalition of immigrant advocates and labor and teachers’ unions challenged the Maryland Board of Elections’s decision granting a referendum. The subsequent trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court centered on the fiscal burden state taxpayers will bear in compensating for the hundreds of illegal immigrants every year that would pay the lower in-state rate. Analysts predict state lawmakers will need to allocate as much as $3.5 million in fiscal 2016 to cover the difference.
In his Feb. 17 opinion, Judge Ronald A. Silkworth ruled that a price tag alone is not enough define the Dream Act as a true appropriation.
D.C-based attorney Joseph E. Sandler—who leads the legal team trying to quash the referendum—will seek to convince appellate judges that the Dream Act's fiscal dimensions are intrinsic, not incidental.
“It’s the very grounds on which the measure was criticized by its opponents,” Sandler said Wednesday.
Appellate guidelines confine discussion to the issues laid out during the preceding trial—meaning that the debate will only rehash arguments made in the lower court.
“Hands down, it’s not an appropriation, and we think the [Circuit] Court got it right,” said Paul Orfanedes, director of litigation for Judicial Watch, a government watchdog that intervened in the Anne Arundel trial on behalf of the state elections board and Attorney General.
Sandler will file the appeal next week, he said, after deciding whether to leapfrog the Court of Special Appeals and ask the case to be heard in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.
The Court of Special Appeals is a three-judge panel, while the Court of Appeals consists of seven judges. The jurisdictional decision will fall on administrators of the Court of Appeals.
Dream Act litigators timed the Circuit Court trial so that its eventual appeal would reach a final ruling within the next few months.
“We expect the case to be decided one way or the other well before” the November election, Sandler said.