In an address the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, William H. Rehnquist, gave in June 1993, he stated: “mandatory minimum sentences are perhaps a good example of the law of unintended consequences.” Less than a decade after it became law, both local and federal judges were beginning to see the unequal effects of the hastily written and signed bill known as the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
The shortcomings and inefficiencies of mandatory drug sentencing minimums are being revealed nearly thirty-five years later, and their racist implications and subsequent unjust ramifications can no longer be ignored. Society must ask itself whether or not the benefits of continuing to enforce this bill substantially outweigh the damages that have been and will continue to be done.
Less than a quarter of a century after Martin Luther King Jr. fought for equal rights and the equal treatment of minorities, Congress passed legislation that has subjected primarily African Americans to the cycle of bondage once again. To make matters worse, even if the individual was to serve their sentence in full and get released, they would have a very difficult time getting a job, and in many states, they would not be allowed to vote. When slavery was abolished, systems were put in place such as the “negro courts” and the “separate but equal” doctrine to ensure that the superiority of the white man remained intact, and when those systems were challenged and broken less than a century ago, new ones crept in to take their place, bolstered by irrational fears and deep-rooted racial stigmas.
While it’s true that Congressional passage of the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 represented a shift in the right direction by “refining the . . . ratio from 100-1 to 18-1,” it is not retroactive, nor does it clarify why the ratio was so disproportionate to begin with. Until Congress repeals the blatantly racist mandatory drug sentencing minimums they created and restore judicial discretion, the criminal justice system of the United States will continue to be inherently unequal and unfair.
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