A federal lawsuit that alleges Maryland’s parole system results in cruel and unusual punishment for inmates sentenced as juveniles to life in prison will move forward after a judge on Friday denied the state’s request to dismiss the case.

The suit, filed in April by the ACLU on behalf of more than 100 juvenile lifers, argues that the state’s parole system unconstitutionally results in “grossly disproportionate punishment” by forcing judges to impose life sentences “without adequate consideration of youth status.” They also argue that because the decision of whether to commute someone’s sentence is left entirely to the governor, there are few meaningful ways for those serving life sentences to be released on parole.

The state had asked a federal judge to toss the case, saying the plaintiffs did not have legal merit in their case and did not provide enough proof to show they were denied meaningful opportunity for release.

The state argued the current system does give inmates sentenced to life with parole opportunities for release.

U.S. District Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander disagreed.

“A parole procedure does little in the way of actually making parole a possibility when the decision of whether to commute a sentence is entirely up to [a governor’s] discretion and the political tides of the day,” Hollander wrote in her opinion.

The lawsuit is part of broader nationwide efforts to reform policies dealing with juvenile offenders and continuing efforts challenging Maryland’s unusual parole system. It is only one of three states that gives the governor the final word to accept or reject parole applications, even if the state parole board has recommended someone’s release.

Maryland governors have paroled anywhere from 25 to 92 lifers in their terms from 1969 to 1995. But after convicted murderer Rodney Stokes killed his girlfriend and committed suicide in 1993 while he was on work release, commuted sentences for lifers in Maryland have become rare.

The result is a politicized system that does not truly give reformed and rehabilitated inmates a fair chance at parole, the ACLU and others said.

The ACLU brought the case on behalf of three named inmates serving life sentences for homicides committed when they were juveniles and by the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, an organization that advocates for prisoner rights.

“Many of these individuals have now served 30 or 40 years or more and have made admirable progress to demonstrate their maturity and rehabilitation,” according to the complaint filed in federal court. “Yet, no juvenile lifer has been paroled in Maryland in the last two decades.”

The state argued that previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions require only that someone receives consideration for parole and that the Constitution doesn’t require the state to release an offender during the inmate’s natural life.

The men named in the case “have had, and continue to have, meaningful and realistic opportunities to obtain release,” the state argued in court briefings.

The case is Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative et al. v. Hogan et al.