EQUAL Act Gets Much-Needed Path Forward in Senate

EQUAL Act Gets Much-Needed Path Forward in Senate

It wasn’t that long ago that we analyzed reports that U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that the EQUAL Act would “bring down the whole package” of criminal justice reform that he and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) had been working on. Those reports painted a bleak picture of the EQUAL Act’s future in the Senate.

The EQUAL Act’s goal—ending the disparity in cocaine sentencing—has broad public support.

The EQUAL Act aims to finally bring an end to the decades-long disparity in cocaine sentencing. For years, federal law included a 100:1 ratio for crack and powder cocaine offenses. This meant that you’d face the same sentence for 500 grams of powder cocaine that you would for five grams of crack cocaine. In 2010, President Barack Obama narrowed this gap to 18:1.

The disparity’s roots go back to the so-called “War on Drugs” of the 1980s. But lawmakers—and, more importantly, the public as a whole—want to bring this disparity to an end. The EQUAL Act would do just that.

Image courtesy of Greg Meland via iStock by Getty Images.

Yet Sen. Grassley described the measure as a “poison pill” for criminal justice reform as a whole.

Earlier this year, the Biden Administration made its support for the EQUAL Act known. In fact, as even Sen. Grassley’s own website recognizes, the EQUAL Act has broad support from voters from all political persuasions.

Despite seemingly all things pointing in one direction, i.e., passing the EQUAL Act, Sen. Grassley said earlier this year that fixing the disparity in cocaine sentencing would “bring down the whole package” of criminal justice reform. Sen. Grassley told reporters that solving this problem would prove a step too far from his Republican colleagues in the Judiciary Committee. And, he warned, it’d also be a problem for “the caucus as a whole….”

But a Republican Senator’s decision to co-sponsor the EQUAL Act gives it a path forward anyway.

But yesterday, one of Sen. Grassley’s Republican colleagues, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), went public with her support for the EQUAL Act anyway. “BREAKING NEWS,” Holly Harris, the President and Executive Director of U.S. Justice Action tweeted. “Senator @lisamurkowski officially added as co-sponsor of #EQUALAct, the first woman in the Senate to support this landmark legislation that achieved 361 votes in the House! Let’s vote this bill and #endthedisparity!”

And, as Harris emphasizes in her tweet, Sen. Murkowski’s support is extraordinarily significant. Not only does her support make the measure bipartisan. It also gives Democratic lawmakers the potential for passing the EQUAL Act in the Senate even if one of their members votes against it.

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