Durbin Statement On Exclusion Of Equal Act Compromise In Omnibus Appropriations Bill

EQUAL Act would finally put a stop to a sentencing disparity that has disproportionately impacted Black Americans for decades

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today released the following statement after Senate Republican leadership refused to include a compromise version of the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act in the Fiscal Year 2023 omnibus appropriations bill.

Last year, Durbin, along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Rob Portman (R-OH), Rand Paul (R-KY), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduced the bipartisan EQUAL Act, which would eliminate the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity and ensure that those who were convicted or sentenced for a federal offense involving cocaine can receive a re-sentencing under the new law.  In September 2021, the EQUAL Act passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 361–66.  During negotiations on the omnibus, Democrats and Republicans agreed on a bipartisan compromise version of the EQUAL Act that would reduce the crack-powder sentencing disparity from 18:1 to 2.5:1.  However, Republican leadership refused to include it on the final bill.

“It is deeply disappointing that Senator McConnell rejected a compromise bill that would make our communities safer and our justice system fairer, and has broad law enforcement and bipartisan support, including from the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  I will continue to work with Senator Booker in advocating for this historic legislation—legislation that will help reform our criminal justice system to better live up to the ideals of true justice and equality under the law.” 

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