Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Kaufman Praises Enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act

August 5, 2010

Mr. President, I rise today to praise the enactment of the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, S. 1789, which was signed into law on Tuesday by President Obama. This reform, which significantly narrows the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine from 100:1 to 18:1, is a long overdue victory for a criminal justice system rooted in fundamental fairness.

I am all for tough antidrug laws, but those laws must also be fair. Current law is based on an unjustified distinction between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. The mere possession of 5 grams of crack--the rough equivalent of five packets of sugar--carries the same sentence as the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine.

As it turns out, this 100-to-1 disparity is unjustified by science. Moreover, it disproportionately affects African Americans who make up more than 80 percent of those convicted of Federal crack offenses.

Law enforcement experts say that the disparity has undermined trust in the criminal justice system, particularly in minority communities.

Making this change a reality required leadership from the very top: from President Obama's personal involvement to great efforts by Senators Dick Durbin, Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch, and others. Achieving this reform took significant political muscle and it took a continuing effort.

I especially want to note the Vice President's early and sustained leadership on this issue.

Back in 2002, when very few in this body wanted to touch this politically toxic problem, then-Senator Biden held a hearing that exposed the need to reduce the crack-powder disparity. Particularly significant was his willingness to admit that he, and Congress generally, made a mistake when they created the distinction back in 1986.

In June 2007, Senator Biden without any cosponsors on either side of the aisle introduced the first Senate bill that would have equalized the penalties for crack and powder cocaine without raising penalties for powder. The introduction of this bill changed the entire landscape of the crack-powder debate. No longer was the question ``Should the disparity be reduced?'' No longer was the debate about whether the 100:1 disparity was reasonable. The Biden bill shifted the burden to the naysayers to justify why 1:1 wasn't the right policy solution.

After Senator Biden assumed his duties as Vice President of the United States, Senator Durbin picked up the Senate torch and reintroduced the Biden bill. I was proud to join him as a cosponsor of S. 1789. He then worked closely with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find a compromise that would both satisfy the needs of law enforcement and return fundamental fairness to the sentencing for these sorts of offenses.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one more crucial participant in this long-running effort. As my colleagues in this body know, much of what we accomplish here on behalf of the American people is influenced greatly by our talented staff.

In this case, reducing the disparity between crack and powder cocaine--without increasing penalties for powder--would not likely have been achieved without the dedication of a very talented public servant, Alan Hoffman.

Alan, while serving as then-Senator Biden's chief of staff, delivered one of the first pushes that started to roll this stone forward, and he kept at it for many years. It is undeniable that many had significant roles to play in this remarkable achievement. But it is equally undeniable that Alan's longstanding drive to right this wrong and shift the policy debate fundamentally was crucial to our being able to celebrate this accomplishment today.

As my colleagues know, I have spoken many times in the Senate about the outstanding men and women who constitute our Federal workforce. Alan Hoffman has been a loyal and dedicated public servant who deserves credit for his work today.

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