A backroom deal has been reached between the Democrats and Republicans in the Senate that does not completely eliminate the sentencing disparity between powder and rock cocaine. Earlier today we reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would completely remove the sentencing disparity between rock and powder cocaine. This afternoon, Senator Durbin announced that he has reached a "compromise" with Republican Jeff Sessions in which he agreed to accept a change to the bill that would replace the 100 to 1 disparity with a 20 to 1 disparity. In return, Sessions agreed to withdraw his amendment to the bill that would have replaced the 5 year minimum for simple possession of crack with a 10 year minimum. Session's amendment would have completely destroyed the bill. In announcing the deal, Durbin stated that he believes in completely eliminating the disparity "but to get things done you have to be prepared to make mutual concessions." So the 100 to 1 disparity is replaced by a 20 to 1 disparity. Almost everyone agrees that the disparity between rock and powder cocaine, regardless of whether it is 100 to 1 or 20 to 1, is racist. So while the old sentencing disparity was 100% racist, this new law will be one-fifth as racist as the old law.
This is another example of how broken our legislative process is. This morning the entire Judiciary Committee agreed to completely eliminate the sentencing disparity. A few hours later a backroom deal is struck in which the bill is reduced to a mockery. While this new sentencing structure will be better than what we had before, why not do the right thing and completely fix the problem? How could one racist Senator, or a group of racist Senators, be allowed to exert their will on the entire Senate? When they try to do this, why not call them out for what they are and force them to explain themselves? If we are a nation of laws, and we have a law that is blatantly racist, then what does that say about our country?
Please note that in 1986 Senator Sessions was nominated by President Reagan to serve as a Federal District Judge. He became only the second nominee in 48 years for Federal District Judge to have his nomination killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee after evidence was introduced at his nomination hearing that indicated he had made racially insensitive comments while working at the U.S. Attorneys Office.
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