Debra J. Saunders

Some supporters of the House bill bristle at the notion of passing a measure that continues the disparity. As Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told Congressional Quarterly, "How do you correct something to make it a little less unjust?"

The answer is: You go for some justice instead of no justice. It has taken 24 years to get the Senate to move this far. Stewart questions whether the bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee could even survive a House floor vote as is -- whereas the Senate bill stands a good chance of passing the House, in part because it enjoyed full bipartisan support.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., has been involved in efforts to reduce the disparity since 2001. According to The Washington Post, Durbin encountered Sessions and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in the Senate gym before their workouts on a recent Thursday morning. Durbin used the moment to push for a deal, which was sealed with a handshake two hours later.

Having Sessions, a former federal prosecutor, on board, should make the bill an easy sell with House members of both parties. President Obama renounced the crack-powder disparity as a candidate for the White House, but I would imagine he would be happy to sign a bill with Republican support.

I understand that many Americans have little sympathy for crack offenders. Hence the cartoonish sentencing system that pops out sledgehammer prison terms even for nonviolent and first-time offenders. What once were high-end sentences have become the floor. Maybe sentences of five years or 10 years (the sentence for 50 grams or up to 250 doses of crack) do not seem like harsh punishment to some voters, but such sentences are long and should be reserved for serious or repeat offenders.

Federal judges have been forced to mete out draconian time for crimes that should be punished, but do not merit more time than it takes to earn a college degree. No American parent would want such rough justice for his own child, and no American should accept it for other people's children.

Debra J. Saunders

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