In March, U.S. House Democrats Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) joined Republican Reps. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Don Bacon (R-NE) to introduce a bill called the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act. The mandates that the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity would end. It would also retroactively apply the change to those already convicted or sentenced.
On September 28, the U.S. House passed the bill by a vote of 361-66. Now the U.S. Senate has an opportunity to pass the bill and send it to President Biden’s desk. Doing so would put an end to one of the worst legacies of the war on drugs.
In 2009, Congressman Bobby Scott led an effort in the U.S. House to eliminate the crack/cocaine disparity in the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act. That effort eventually led to the 2010 passage of the Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced the crack cocaine disparity from 100:1 to 18:1.
“For years, we have known that harsh drug sentencing disparities between crack and powder cocaine have created a racially disparate impact on Black communities. The bipartisan EQUAL Act is the next step on the long road toward eliminating this unfair sentencing disparity,” Rep. Scott said in a statement.
“Eliminating the crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity is a step toward applying equal justice under the law. I will continue to work with Representative Jeffries and advocate for it in the Senate so this long overdue legislation can get to the president’s desk and signed into law,” said Congressman Armstrong, a Republican from North Dakota.
“The EQUAL Act will help reverse engineer the tragic legacy of the failed war on drugs which has devastated lives, families and communities. Crack cocaine has historically been used in inner-city communities and powder cocaine in affluent neighborhoods and the suburbs. That does not justify the wide disparity in sentencing. I thank the tremendous leadership of Rep. Armstrong and all my colleagues in the House who supported this legislation and are committed to burying the failed war on drugs and making the promise of equal justice for all a reality,” said Congressman Jeffries.
The moment of bipartisan progress on justice reform legislation stands in contrasts with the recent failure on the George Floyd Justice reform bill which was being negotiated by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and others. Last week the talks ended in failure.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is a political analyst who appears regularly on #RolandMartinUnfiltered. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke