October 27, 2021

Durbin: The Senate Must Follow the House's Lead and Eliminate the Federal Crack and Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

EQUAL Act will finally put a stop to a sentencing disparity that has disproportionately impacted Black Americans for decades

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today urged his colleagues to support bipartisan legislation that will finally eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced.  The Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, introduced by Durbin and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), would eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and ensure that those who were convicted or sentenced for a federal offense involving crack cocaine can receive a re-sentencing under the new law.  Last month, the House of Representatives passed the EQUAL Act on a bipartisan vote of 361-66. 

“I’ve tried to undo some of the damage done [during] the war on drugs.  We came together in 2010 to pass a bill I called the Fair Sentencing Act.  It lowered the federal drug sentences for the first time since the war on drugs.  Through bipartisan negotiations, we were able to significantly reduce the crack-powder sentencing disparity, but we didn't eliminate it,” Durbin said.  “Now more than a decade later, we can finish the job with the EQUAL Act, a measure I introduced this year under the leadership of my friend and colleague, Senator Cory Booker.  Once again, we’ve been able to come together on a bipartisan basis, only this time we agree we need to finish the job and end this disparity… by passing the EQUAL Act, this Senate can prove we can learn from our mistakes.”

Video of Durbin’s statement on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s statement on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s statement on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

The EQUAL Act is also cosponsored by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Rand Paul (R-KY), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).

After the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses vastly differed.  For instance, until 2010, someone caught distributing five grams of crack cocaine served the same five-year prison sentence as someone caught distributing 500 grams of powder cocaine.  Over the years, this 100:1 sentencing disparity has been widely criticized as lacking scientific justification.  Furthermore, the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity has disproportionately impacted people of color.

The Fair Sentencing Act, introduced by Durbin, passed in 2010 during the Obama Administration and reduced the sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1.  In 2018, Durbin and Booker were instrumental in crafting the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive.

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