Biden backs bill to end sentencing disparity for cocaine convictions that he helped create

When Joe Biden was a senator from Delaware, he often espoused “tough on crime” views and proved instrumental in authoring and supporting several crime bills with stiff penalties, including one aimed at cocaine trafficking and dealing that featured disparate sentencing requirements for powder versus crack cocaine.

The disparity in sentencing had an unmistakable racial component, for which now-President Biden has been sharply criticized. But now, he’s backing legislation that would repeal the sentencing disparity altogether, The Hill reported.

At issue is a 1986 crime bill crafted in part by then-Sen. Biden and passed with a bipartisan vote that was signed into law by former President Ronald Reagan.

Within the bill was a provision dealing with cocaine that imposed a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for those convicted of trafficking either 500 grams of powder cocaine or 5 grams of crack, also known as cocaine base — a provision that came to be known as the “100-1 rule” that ultimately led to more Black Americans being convicted and imprisoned for cocaine possession than white Americans.

Legislation to end disparity in sentencing

In an apparent bid to try and rectify that disparity — which had already been reduced from 100-1 to 18-1 by way of the bipartisan Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 — the Biden White House has signaled its support for a new piece of legislation that would repeal the remaining disparity in sentencing in its entirety.

Dubbed the “EQUAL Act,” which stands for “Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law,” the bill sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) would completely eliminate the sentencing disparity for the different types of cocaine.

That would be accomplished by directly repealing certain statutory provisions within the Controlled Substance Act and Controlled Substances Import and Export Act. It would be applicable to all future prosecutions and pending cases involving cocaine and would provide a basis for those previously sentenced under the prior statutes an opportunity to have their sentences reduced.

Biden White House backs bill

According to The Washington Post, President Biden’s endorsement of the bill was made clear Tuesday by Regina LaBelle, the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The current disparity is not based on evidence, yet has caused significant harm for decades, particularly to individuals, families and communities of color,” LaBelle told the senators during the hearing.

“The continuation of this sentencing disparity is a significant injustice in our legal system, and it is past time for it to end,” she continued. “Therefore, the administration urges the swift passage of the ‘Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act.’”

Bipartisan support

Interestingly, the Biden-backed bill appears to have some measure of bipartisan support, according to The Post, as it has been cosponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), was endorsed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) — who formerly served as chief of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) — and is backed by a former U.S. Attorney who also served as counsel to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Furthermore, the prior reduction of the disparity in the 2010 bill was a joint effort by Sen. Durbin and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

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