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Public Statements

Fair Sentencing Act of 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PAUL. I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this legislation. It's called the Fair Sentencing Act. I'd like to rename it, though. I'd like to call it the Slightly Fairer Resentencing Act, because it really makes an attempt to correct a very, very serious problem in equal justice in our systems, and that effort I think we should all applaud. I would have much preferred H.R. 3245. I was an original cosponsor of that along with Congressman Scott, but I think this is a typical example of trying to fix a problem that we invite upon ourselves.

In economics, I adhere to the position that once you want to do some good in the economy, with all the best motivations, we do things and we create new problems and we have to go back. If you get two new problems for every intervention, then you're constantly writing laws.

Well, in social policy, I believe the same thing. It was trying to improve social policy with crack cocaine. There was no evidence on this. It was designed to help people, especially the minorities that were using crack cocaine, and they thought this was terrible, and it turned out that its law backfired. It actually hurt minorities, didn't help them. Here we are trying to correct this disparity, and it just, to me, confirms the fact that government management, whether it is the economy or social policy, doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

When this country decided it was very dangerous to drink alcohol and we had to stop it, back in those days, in the teens of the last century, they decided in order for the government to do this they had to amend the Constitution. Can you imagine anybody being concerned today by what we do here and say we have to amend the Constitution? Oh, no. We amended the Constitution. It was a bomb. It made alcohol much more dangerous. All the drug dealers sold the alcohol, and the alcohol was more concentrated and less pure. People died. People woke up and they repealed it.

This is what's going to have to happen someday. We need to repeal the war on drugs.

Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 minute to the majority leader of the House of Representatives, the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer).

Mr. HOYER. Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this legislation and thank Mr. Scott for yielding to me.

I also want to thank the former attorney general from California, Dan Lungren, for working with me on this issue and Jim Sensenbrenner and others.

Two decades ago, Congress responded to the addictiveness of crack cocaine, a terrible drug, and the violence it brought in its wake by establishing harsh mandatory sentences for possessing and dealing it. In supporting that policy, Congress also created a wide disparity, however, between crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentences--both addictive, both illegal.

Possessing an amount of crack equal to the weight of two pennies has resulted in a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years. In order to receive a similar sentence for possessing a chemically similar powder, cocaine, one would have to be carrying 100 times as much cocaine.

It has long been clear that 100-to-1 disparity has had a racial dimension as well, helping to fill our prisons with African Americans disproportionately put behind bars for longer.

The 100-to-1 disparity is counterproductive and unjust. That's not just my opinion, but the opinion of a bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission, the Judicial Conference of the United States, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Association of Police Organizations, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the International Union of Police Associations, and dozens of former Federal judges and prosecutors. They have seen firsthand the damaging effects of our unequal sentencing guidelines up close, and they understand the need to change them. That's what this is about.

The Fair Sentencing Act does that. It also strengthens sentences for those who profit by addicting others to drugs, as it should do.

This bill has overwhelming bipartisan support. Whatever their opinions on drug policies, members of law enforcement, community advocates, and Members of Congress overwhelmingly support this bill. In fact, it passed the Senate unanimously.

In the words of a letter signed by a bipartisan group with sponsors on the Senate Judiciary--Senators Leahy, Sessions, Feinstein, Hatch, Specter, Grassley, Durbin, Graham, Cardin, Cornyn and Coburn--a very, very bipartisan and broad spectrum group of supporters, they said this: ``Congress has debated the need to address the crack powder disparity for too long. We now have the ability to address this issue on a bipartisan basis.'' They supported this legislation, which is, again, why it passed in a bipartisan fashion through the United States Senate.

My colleagues, I urge support of this legislation. I am pleased that the leadership on both sides of the aisle will be supporting this legislation. We do so for the same reason that Senators Cornyn, Hatch, Graham, and Sessions all support their legislation. It's the right thing to do. It will enhance, not diminish prosecution, and it will lead to better justice in America while at the same time making sure that we penalize and hold accountable those who would addict our children and our fellow citizens.

I urge support of this legislation.

Mr. SMITH of Texas. I yield myself the balance of my time.

Mr. Speaker, more than any other drug, the majority of crack defendants have prior criminal convictions. Despite claims by some, this is not an issue of one-time crack users being prosecuted for possession. This is about offenders who perpetually peddled this dangerous drug and should pay the price for their actions.

Despite the devastating impact crack cocaine has had on American communities, this bill reduces the penalties for crack cocaine. Why would we want to do that? We should not ignore the severity of crack addiction or ignore the differences between crack and powder cocaine trafficking. We should worry more about the victims than about the criminals.

Why would we want to reduce the penalties for crack cocaine trafficking and invite a return to a time when cocaine ravaged our communities, especially minority communities?

This bill sends the wrong message to drug dealers and those who traffic in destroying Americans' lives. It sends the message that Congress takes drug crimes less seriously than they did. The bill before us threatens to return America to the days when crack cocaine corroded the minds and bodies of our children, decimated a generation, and destroyed communities.

Mr. Speaker, I hope, sincerely, that those who support this legislation are prepared to take responsibility if cocaine trafficking increases, if our neighborhoods and communities once again become riddled with violence, and the lives of Americans are unnecessarily destroyed.

I hope that doesn't happen, but at least today we have gone on record as saying that there was a warning, and I can only hope that at some point in the future it will be heeded and responded to.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, this bill does not reduce the disparity from 100-to-1 to 1-to-1. It does not eliminate the mandatory minimums, but it is a step in the right direction and, therefore, I urge my colleagues to support S. 1789.

Mr. PAUL. Mr. Speaker, I rise in reluctant support for S. 1789, the Fair Sentencing Act. My support is reluctant because S. 1789 is an uncomfortable mix of some provisions that reduce the harms of the federal war on drugs and other provisions that increase the harms of that disastrous and unconstitutional war. I am supporting this legislation because I am optimistic the legislation's overall effect will be positive.

Congress should be looking critically at how we can extricate America from the four decades of destruction that has ensued since President Richard Nixon announced the federal war on drugs in 1972. As a medical doctor with over 30 years' experience, I certainly recognize the dangers that can arise from drug abuse. However, experience shows that the federal drug war creates many additional dangers, while failing to reduce the problems associated with drug abuse. Like 14 years of federal alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and '30s, America's federal drug war has failed to ameliorate the problems associated with drug use, while fostering violence and disrespect for individual rights.

While imperfect, I am optimistic that the Senate bill being considered today will reduce the harms of the federal drug war. I also hope consideration of this legislation will enliven interest in ending the federal war on drugs.

It is unfortunate that the House of Representatives is today considering this compromise legislation from the Senate instead of Representative Bobby Scott's H.R. 3245, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act. I am an original cosponsor of Representative Scott's bill, which passed the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary on July 29, 2009--one year ago tomorrow. Representative Scott's legislation is a short and simple bill that repeals a handful of clauses, sentences, and subparagraphs of federal drug laws to eliminate the 100 to one drug weight basis for sentencing disparity for crack cocaine violations in comparison to powder cocaine violations.

I will vote for the Senate legislation today because it rolls back some of the enhanced mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine that the federal government created in 1986. These enhanced mandatory minimum sentences have caused people convicted for small amounts of crack cocaine to serve much longer sentences in prison than people convicted for the same amount of powder cocaine.

While the Senate legislation reduces the drug weight basis for mandatory minimum sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine convictions for many individuals to only 18 to one compared to the total elimination of the disparity in Representative Scott's bill, the Senate bill does make a step in the right direction. The Senate bill eliminates entirely the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine and reduces significantly the mandatory minimum sentence for many people convicted of crack offenses by raising the number of grams of crack cocaine a person must possess for each mandatory minimum sentence level to apply. In addition, the Senate bill allows courts to show compassion for individuals with compelling cases for leniency by reducing sentences for some people convicted of controlled substances violations who a court determines meet requirements including having minimum knowledge of the illegal enterprise, receiving no monetary compensation from the illegal transaction, and being motivated by threats, fear, or an intimate or family relationship.

Unfortunately, while the Senate bill reduces some of the most extreme and unjust mandatory minimum sentences in the federal drug war, it also contains expansions of the federal drug war that I fear may yield results destructive to individual liberty and public safety. In particular, the Senate bill significantly increases maximum allowed monetary penalties for violations of federal restrictions on controlled substances and increases sentences for people convicted of controlled substances violations whose circumstances include certain aggravating factors.

Some people will argue that the increased penalties in the Senate legislation are desirable because they target people who are high up in the illegal drug trade or who took particularly disturbing actions, such as involving a minor in drug trafficking. But, the history of the federal drug war has shown that ramping up penalties always results in increasing rather than decreasing the harms arising from the federal drug war. Such enhanced penalties increase the risks of the drug trade thus causing illegal drug operations to be more ruthless and violent in their tactics. Enhanced penalties also can result in even more inflated prices for illegal drugs, leading to more thefts by individuals seeking funds to support their drug use. High monetary fines for drug trafficking also tend to provide police and prosecutors with a perverse incentive to focus on nonviolent drug crimes instead of violent crimes.

Each successive ramping up of the federal war on drugs has made it more evident that this war is incompatible with constitutional government, individual liberty, and prosperity. It is time for Congress to reverse course. I am optimistic that S. 1789--even with its faults--may signal that Congress is ready to begin reversing course. It is imperative that the House of Representatives pursue a dialogue on how we can end the federal war on drugs--a war that has increasingly become a war on the American people and our Constitution.


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