AG Holder Sounding Stronger on Fixing Crack-Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

Attorney General Eric Holder spoke yesterday at the D.C. Court of Appeals Judicial Conference. His prepared remarks are here. On the issue of crack-powder cocaine sentencing disparity, he told them:

It is the view of this Administration that the 100-to-1 crack-powder sentencing ratio is simply wrong. It is plainly unjust to hand down wildly disparate prison sentences for materially similar crimes. It is unjust to have a sentencing disparity that disproportionately and illogically affects some racial groups. I know the American people can see this. And that perception of unfairness undermines governmental authority in the criminal justice process and breeds disrespect for the system. It leads victims and witnesses of crime to think twice before cooperating with law enforcement, tempts jurors to ignore the law and facts when judging a criminal case, and draws the public into questioning the motives of its officials. ...

I am confident that most of us agree that this situation benefits no one and must be reformed.

Holder also warned not to expect change overnight. [More...]

But we also know that doing so won’t be an easy task. Agreeing on the problem is just the beginning, and we need to all put our heads together to come up with the fairest solution. If our goal is to arrive at a 1-to-1 ratio, how do we get there? We are asking this question now at the Department, alongside related questions, such as what the role of reentry programs for the incarcerated should be in a fully realized system of justice.

I don't get this part. He asks, "If our goal is to arrive at a 1-to-1 ratio, how do we get there? "

To me, the answer is obvious. The reform bills are pending in Congress, waiting for hearings and votes. Obama and his staff need to set up meetings with members of Congress, or at a minimum, pick up the phone and call them, like they do when the issue is the bailout or health care, and ask, plead, cajole or grovel, whatever it takes, to obtain their support the 1:1 bill. It's not rocket science. Every day they don't act, another life is going down the toilet, because the pending reform bill most likely to pass will not apply retroactively to those already serving sentences. So everyone sentenced next week and next month to a draconian sentence the Government admits is unfair will be stuck with it.

What is the Obama Administration doing to light a fire under Congress on this issue? Here's an idea: President Obama could issue an executive order declaring a moratorium on crack cocaine sentencing until a reform bill is passed, and further, providing that all detained crack defendants are to be released on bond pending sentencing. Maybe that would get Congress moving.

Holder sounds like he's trying. We just need him to try harder. This administration knows the answer and they also know "how to get there." It's time to get going.

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    Yes, they sure know how to work it when then want, (none / 0) (#1)
    by KeysDan on Sat Jun 20, 2009 at 07:46:49 PM EST
    as witness the squeeze put on new Democratic congress members to support the supplemental for continued funding of the Iraq/Afghan wars.  If we want l:l,  Mr.  Holder's and President Obama need to conjure up some political courage--qualities that seem to be rationed.

    The problem with (none / 0) (#2)
    by JamesTX on Sat Jun 20, 2009 at 08:02:13 PM EST
    right wingers and disparities of any kind in criminal justice is that they always fix the disparity by raising the penalties/costs/hardships of the advantaged group up to the level of the disadvantaged group. If one group is being unfairly treated, the conservative solution is generally to mistreat everyone to make things equal. We don't just need to fix ethnic disparities in drug laws. We need decriminalization. Raising penalties for powder will be the solution suggested, as always, though, I suspect.

    Send a letter to Congress (none / 0) (#3)
    by randy80302 on Sat Jun 20, 2009 at 10:12:10 PM EST
    This is a great baby step in reducing the harm of the drug war on criminal defendants.

    The Drug Policy Alliance has a nifty tool to send a note to your member of Congress.

    This is one of those issues that we the people know is an unjust law, so we need to do the work.

    I have sent letters and followed up with phone calls to the office of my Senators and Representative. The staff people of my members have come to respect my opinion on drug policy reform issues, as I am in regular communications. I send blog posts and articles that present good arguments about reform.

    The national reform groups have 535 members of Congress to deal with and they need citizens to take initiative to identify and begin conversations with members of Congress and their staff.

    So, readers of Talk Left, join me and help do some of the work necessary to create better drug law.

    Contact me if you need help.

    link (none / 0) (#4)
    by randy80302 on Sat Jun 20, 2009 at 10:13:14 PM EST
    Easy as pie (none / 0) (#7)
    by lentinel on Sun Jun 21, 2009 at 07:27:22 AM EST
    The disparity between powder and crack cocaine can be eliminated in one stroke of the proverbial pen: decriminalize them both.

    Cole Porter's song, "I get a kick from cocaine" - didn't upset anybody when it was first released.
    Marijuana was legal too.

    Things weren't worse at that time. That's for sure.

    Of course, around that time, they were shooting people for brewing beer.

    We just keep going in circles.

    Clarification (none / 0) (#8)
    by lentinel on Sun Jun 21, 2009 at 07:36:31 AM EST
    The title of the song is, "I get a kick out of you".
    The lyric actually is,
    "Some get a kick from cocaine
    I'm sure that if i took even one sniff
    that would bore me terrificly too
    yet i get a kick out of you."

    In the lyrics, the singer also says that he/she gets no kick from champagne or a plane. But those two activities are currently accessible to us. Champagne was once illegal thanks to Uncle Sammy, but the plane has had no problems throughout the decades. Sure it is destroying the environment, but what the hell.


    nothing personal randy, (none / 0) (#9)
    by cpinva on Sun Jun 21, 2009 at 04:49:10 PM EST
    The staff people of my members have come to respect my opinion on drug policy reform issues, as I am in regular communications.

    i'm sure you mean well. my guess, unless you're  a very large donor to your senator's or rep's re-election fund, your communications get passed around by their aides, for a big laugh.

    don't take it hard, the staff gets paid to make sure people like you think someone in congress actually gives two nanny-goat sh*ts what you think.

    Eh? (none / 0) (#10)
    by mcl on Mon Jun 22, 2009 at 04:52:59 AM EST
    This is the same Attorney General Holder who publicly proclaimed he wanted to massively increase federal penalties for marijuana possession in response to the escalating drug violence in Mexico...?

    "...with marijuana sales central to the drug trade, Mr. Holder said he was exploring ways to lower the minimum amount required for the federal prosecution of possession cases."