When Congress passed the Fair Sentencing Act, it narrowed the discrepancy in punishment between those convicted of crack-cocaine violations, who tend to be black, and those with powder-cocaine offenses, who tend to be white, remedying what had long been seen as a huge injustice that had everything to do with race.
On Thursday the Supreme Court ruled that Congress intended the more lenient sentences it created for crack-cocaine offenders to begin immediately, meaning that even those who committed their crimes before the law was signed are covered, the Washington Post reports:
The court's 5 to 4 decision settled a question that Congress seemed to leave open when it passed the Fair Sentencing Act.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the more lenient penalties apply to the thousands of people who violated the law before President Obama signed it on Aug. 3, 2010, but who were not sentenced until afterward.
The decision came on a day the court also made it harder for public employee unions to extract special fees from nonmembers.
The court was clearing the deck for decisions next week on two of the most important cases of the term: the constitutionality of Obama’s health-care law and Arizona's attempt to toughen laws against illegal immigrants.
The Fair Sentencing Act changed a system that essentially treated one gram of crack cocaine as the equivalent of 100 grams of powder cocaine. It reduced that ratio to about 1 to 18, raising the amount of crack cocaine necessary to trigger mandatory sentences.
Read more at the Washington Post.