The Third Circuit judges heard arguments from Lewis, the state, and Burlington County Republicans. They are expected to decide soon whether to bounce the case back to U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman, who would consider whether New Jersey's four-year residency requirement violates the U.S. Constitution.
Third Circuit Judge Anthony Scirica noted that "the federal constitutional issue hasn't been addressed."
As the Wednesday hearing concluded, the judges asked for a transcript as quickly as possible.
Standing outside the courtroom, Lewis said, "My main thing is to be on the ballot. Let the voters decide."
Lewis, 49, of Medford, registered to vote in New Jersey on April 11, the same day he filed petitions to run for state Senate as a Democrat. He said he had little time to mount a public campaign.
Reflecting on what has happened since he announced his candidacy, he said, "To me, it's amazing you can go from New Jersey's favorite son to carpetbagger in three weeks."
Earlier Wednesday, the New Jersey Supreme Court turned down Lewis' request to stop the printing and mailing of primary ballots.
That was after the state appeals court ruled that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, acting as the secretary of state, was correct when she ruled that Lewis didn't pass the four-year residency test for Senate candidates.
The Supreme Court asked the parties to submit briefs by Friday but gave no indication of when it may make a ruling.
The dizzying race from court to court stems from the Burlington County Republican Party's April 15 suit to remove Lewis from the ballot and Democrats' efforts to keep him on it.
Guadagno noted that because Lewis voted in California in 2009, he had not been a resident of New Jersey for four years.
"One and a half years ago, he was telling a state 3,000 miles away that he was domiciled there and could vote there, under penalty of law," argued Assistant Attorney General Donna Kelly, defending Guadagno's ruling.
But Lewis' attorney, William Tambussi, said "that alone is not indicative of establishment of domicile. His roots are here. His mother is here."
He said Lewis bought homes in Mount Laurel for himself and his mother in 2005 and began moving his personal property to New Jersey then. In 2007, Tambussi said, Lewis started coaching the track team at Willingboro High School, where his parents taught and where he was a track star.
If the federal court turns down Lewis, Democratic "voters of the Eighth District will be denied the opportunity to cast ballots for other than a write-in," Tambussi said.
That write-in candidate would need 100 votes to appear on the general election ballot against freshman Republican State Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego.
But Mark Sheridan, representing the Burlington Republicans who raised the Lewis residency issue, said, "This court should not bail him out."
He said that if the federal court agrees with Lewis, he could expect a residency challenge.
"Even if he gets on the ballot, he will end up back in court - all for a $49,000-a-year state Senate seat," he said.
But Lewis said, "I'm not going away."
Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or firstname.lastname@example.org.