Durbin, Booker, Armstrong, Jeffries Announce Reintroduction Of Bipartisan Legislation To Eliminate Federal Crack And Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Counterterrorism, and U.S. Representatives Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) and Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the House Democratic Leader, in announcing the reintroduction of the bipartisan Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act, legislation to eliminate the federal crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and apply it retroactively to those already convicted or sentenced. 

The sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine, at one point as high as 100 to 1, helped fuel the mass incarceration epidemic. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, in Fiscal Years 2017-2021, 79.2 percent of crack cocaine trafficking offenders were Black, whereas most powder cocaine trafficking offenders were either white or Hispanic.  

“The crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity disproportionally impacts people of color, with nearly 80 percent of those convicted of federal crack trafficking offenses in recent years being Black. I worked alongside the Obama Administration in 2010 to pass my Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, a bipartisan bill that significantly reduced the racial disparity in cocaine sentencing. But it’s time that we fully eliminate this injustice once and for all,” said Durbin. “I’m joining Senator Booker in introducing the EQUAL Act to get rid of this discriminatory sentencing disparity for good.” 

Joining Durbin and Booker as original cosponsors on the EQUAL Act in the Senate are U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Thom Tillis (R-NC), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Rand Paul (R-KY). 

After the passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, sentencing for crack and powder cocaine offenses differed vastly. For instance, until 2010, someone convicted of distributing five grams of crack cocaine served the same five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence as someone convicted of 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 crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1. In 2018, Durbin, Booker, and Jeffries were instrumental in crafting the First Step Act, which made the Fair Sentencing Act retroactive. 

Durbin, Booker, Armstrong, and Jeffries first introduced the EQUAL Act to eliminate the disparity once and for all in 2021. In September 2021, the legislation passed the House with a wide bipartisan margin, 361-66. In the Senate, the legislation ultimately attracted 11 Republican and 24 Democratic cosponsors.

The full text of the legislation can be viewed here