Blog of Rights

Bending The Arc Towards Justice: Congress Passes Bill Reducing Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

By Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:55pm

Nearly a quarter of a century after President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act resulting in the infamous 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine powder offenses the House of Representatives passed the Fair Sentencing Act by a voice vote yesterday with both Democrats and Republicans speaking on the floor in support of the legislation.

This historic legislation vastly reduces the infamous and discriminatory 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine to a ratio of 18:1. It is not perfect, but it is an improvement over current federal law and will make a real difference in the lives of men and women currently receiving needlessly cruel and very long mandatory minimum sentences for what are often low-level, non-violent drug offenses.

The legislation would also be the first since the Nixon administration to actually repeal a mandatory minimum sentence.

Speaking on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, President Obama declared:

“Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice...."

With the Senate’s passage by unanimous consent earlier in the year and yesterday’s House passage by voice vote - the Fair Sentencing Act is one signature away from becoming law. As a long time advocate for eliminating the disparity President Obama is poised to sign this bill and restore a measure of fairness to federal sentencing law.

This is an amazing victory for criminal justice reform. But we're not done. We're making progress. But we are not finished. We are going to continue to push for complete elimination of the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. It is a distinction without justification. Indeed, we are going to keep working to bend the arc towards justice.

Thanks, and congratulations on this important victory for fairness and justice!

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