Attorneys for John B. Anderson told a U.S. District Court judge today that Maryland's preliminary filing deadline for independent presidential candidates should be struck down as unconstitutional because it is discriminatory and abridges free expression.

"There is a gross discrimination between the way major party candidates and minor party candidates (for president and vice president) are treated under Maryland law," argued attorney Henry J. Lord, who represents Anderson's state compaign organization.

At issue is Maryland's requirement that an independent or minor party presidential candidate must file supporting petitions containing one-third of the required 55,517 signatures by March 3 -- the earliest filing deadline in the country -- to be on the November ballot.

Anderson campaign workers last month filed nearly 89,000 signatures with the state's local 24 local elections boards, where the signatures are being verified.

In support to the March 3 deadline attorneys for Maryland's elections board argued that there is nothing unreasonable or discriminatory in asking a candidate to decide by March 3 whether he will run with a major party organization or on his own.

"All the Maryland filing deadline does is preserve the party route [to the ballot] for party candidates and the independent route for independent candidates," said Assistant Attorney General Diana Motz. "We're preventing defeated party candidates from trying it both ways."

John Anderson, she said, "is a person who ran and ran hard as a party candidate for nine months. . . he didn't declare as an independent candidate until he was sure he couldn't win the Republican nomination.

Anderson dropped out of the Republican primary contests and declared himself an independent candidate on April 24. He is currently qualified for the ballot in 10 states, including Ohio -- where a court ruling in Anderson's favor is being appealed by state officials.

His name was placed on the ballot in New Mexico after a federal judge struck down that state's March 4 filing deadline last month. State officials have not appealed that ruling -- a ruling that was cited several times by Anderson's attorney here today.

Even if there were a compelling state interest in establishing separate procedures for major party candidates and other candidates, Lord said, the law established to protect that interest must be the least drastic possible.

"Where is the political stability being defended by the state that requires Congressman Anderson and others like him to file a piece of paper . . . by March 3, eight months before the general election? Lord said, adding that Democratic and Republican candidates need not file until Aug. 31.

Presiding Judge Joseph H. Young echoed this thought several times when questioning Maryland's attorneys. "What is the magic of [the] March third [deadline] if there is a possibility it may infringe on the rights of some candidate who wants to be on the ballot?" he asked at one point.

Throughout her argument, Motz answered this question by saying, "The only candidate on whom (the deadline) is a burden is the candidate who wants to pursue both routes to the ballot . . . it is a burden on neither the true independent nor the [major] party candidate."

At the close of the arguments Young said he would issue a ruling in the case early Wednesday afternoon.