Judge signals Pa. voter ID law may be blocked

Kathryn Whitecotton covers her personal information as she shows her Pennsylvania driver's license and her address update card outside the PennDOT Driver's License Center in Butler, Pa., Sept. 26, 2012.
AP Photo

Updated at 10:11 a.m. ET

(CBS News) A hearing on Pennsylvania's strict Voter ID law resumes Thursday in Harrisburg after the judge gave a strong indication on Tuesday that he may block at least part of the law.

"I'm giving you a heads-up," Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson told lawyers in the case. "I think it is a possibility that there could be an injunction here."

He asked lawyers to prepare arguments for Thursday not on whether he should grant an injunction, but on what kind of injunction he should impose. Lawyers had a day to prepare their argument because court did not meet on Wednesday.

Thursday, the plaintiffs are expected to present a dozen witnesses who will describe significant difficulties they encountered while trying to obtain the kind of ID required to vote. But there will be no final ruling Thursday as Simpson gave lawyers until 4:30 p.m. Friday to submit additional filings. He must issue an opinion on or before October 2, next Tuesday, just 35 days before Election Day.

If Simpson finds that voters are unable to easily obtain required IDs or if some voters will be disenfranchised by the ID requirement, he must block the law from taking effect before the November's elections per an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The voter ID law was signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in March; the law generally requires voters to present a photo identification card in order to cast a ballot. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states that have passed ID laws in the past two years.

Opponents argue the law could create "a very large problem" for as many as half a million voters in Pennsylvania. They argue that a disproportionate number of those impacted would be racial minorities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups.

"We know there was a strategic and targeted move behind the passing of this law ... this law was passed because someone wants to control an election," said John Jordan, Director for Civic Engagement for the Pennsylvania NAACP.

In court on Tuesday, lawyers for the plaintiffs grilled Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) officials on a litany of issues voters have encountered when trying to obtain an ID.

PennDOT Deputy Secretary Kurt Myers testified that PennDOT has, "Reacted to [these] concerns by making changes."

Changes include easing restrictions on a Department of State voter ID, just hours before Tuesday's hearing.

At Tuesday's hearing, PennDOT announced that voters could now apply for a voting-only ID without first having to apply for a Pennsylvania non-driver ID, which has more stringent application process. Voters will also no longer have to show proof of residence.

"We're in the business of issuing IDs, not denying IDs," Myers told the court.

But some see the state's last minute measure to make it easier to get an ID as a ploy to deter the judge from issuing an injunction.

"All of this is because of the pressure that is on [them] and to make sure that the judge does not overturn this thing," according to Jordan.

Simpson previously declined to issue a preliminary injunction against the law back in August. In that opinion, Judge Simpson wrote that opponents of the voter ID law "did an excellent job of 'putting a face' to those burdened by this new requirement," but he does not "have the luxury of deciding this issue based on my sympathy for the witnesses."

Opponents of the law appealed his decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After hearing arguments from both sides, the Supreme Court returned the case to Judge Simpson and ordered him assess the availability of ID cards in light of "expedited" efforts put forth by the Pennsylvania government.