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.” It mandates an end to the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity. It would also retroactively apply the change to those already convicted or sentenced.
On Sept. 28, 2021, the U.S. House passed the bill by a vote of 361-66. Now the Senate has an opportunity to pass the bill and send it to President Joe Biden’s desk. Doing so would put an end to one of the worst legacies of the war on drugs.
In 2009, 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,” 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 (be) signed into law,” said 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,” said Jeffries. “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.”
The moment of bipartisan progress on justice reform legislation stands in contrast 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. Those talks ended in failure.