The Washington group Judicial Watch filed papers Thursday to intervene in the lawsuit over legislation to extend in-state tuition discounts to illegal immigrants.
The conservative group, which bills itself as a watchdog on immigration, can bring money and national attention to the battle in Maryland, where the controversial measure was suspended after opponents successfully petitioned for a statewide referendum.
"There is no question that the Maryland DREAM Act should be put to a referendum," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. "The illegal immigration lobby simply wants to keep Maryland voters from having their say on the issue."
The legislation was approved this year by the Democratic General Assembly and signed by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.
But a Republican-led petition drive gathered enough signatures to put the Dream Act on the ballot in November 2012. The effort, which attracted Republicans, Democrats and independents, was the first successful petition drive campaign in 10 years. That effort 10 years ago was overturned in a court challenge.
CASA de Maryland and other immigrant advocates are suing the State Board of Elections, which they say validated many of the signatures improperly.
Judicial Watch said Thursday that it would represent the organizers of the petition drive.
CASA spokeswoman Kim Propeack said her group and other plaintiffs consented to Judicial Watch intervening in the case.
"They are representing the petitioners, and the petitioners clearly have a reasonable role in the dispute," Propeack said.
A motions hearing is scheduled for the end of January.
Immigration advocates across the country have long argued that state universities should charge illegal immigrants the same in-state rates that apply to other residents. They've lobbied successfully for such breaks in about a dozen states, including Texas under Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who now faces heat from opponents in the GOP presidential primaries for supporting the law.
O'Malley has praised Perry for that support.
"I do like the fact that he recognizes that fair is fair and if a family's paying in-state taxes, they should pay in-state tuition," O'Malley said.