New York Law School

Archive for 2007

Supreme Court Addresses Unfairness in Crack Cocaine Sentencing Disparity

In early December the Supreme Court delivered its opinion in Kimbrough v. United States, effectively restoring drug sentencing discretion to district court judges. The decision permits judges to deviate from federal Sentencing Guidelines, giving lighter sentences in drug cases, including in situations where the judge feels the Guidelines create an unjust result.

Derrick Kimbrough, a Persian Gulf war veteran, pled guilty to two counts of possessing and distributing more than 50 grams of crack cocaine in Norfolk, Virginia. Combined with his criminal record (misdemeanors only) and a weapons charge that carried its own mandatory five-years, the recommended sentence for Mr. Kimbrough was 19-22 years in prison. This sentence is based on Federal Sentencing Guidelines which recommend the punishment for crack cocaine be 100 times that for powdered cocaine. The federal district court judge sitting in the case, Judge Raymond A. Jackson, called the recommended sentence “ridiculous” and refused to impose it. He sentenced Mr. Kimbrough to 15 years. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned Judge Jackson’s discretionary sentence, ruling that trial judges act unreasonably if they decline to follow sentencing guidelines based solely on a desire to “avoid the sentencing disparity caused by the 100 to 1 ratio.” Read more

RJP Releases Supreme Court Report for October 2007 Term

The Racial Justice Project is pleased to announce its Supreme Court Report for the October 2007 Term. The Court had 19 new cases on its docket, including three that dealt with issues of racial justice. Two of the cases, Kimbrough v. United States and Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, et al. dealt with issues that were not per se issues of race, but that historically fall disproportionately hard on minorities—mandatory drug sentencing and voting restrictions. The third, CBOCS West Inc. v. Humphries, dealt with employment discrimination based on race.

Click here to download the report.

A Return to Segregated Education

The controversy surrounding social equalization and economic reparative measures such as affirmative action and other methods of achieving racial integration have been persistent areas of debate for countless decades. On June 28, 2007, in a ruling of much anticipation, the United States Supreme Court added more fuel to the already incendiary discourse. The cases Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1 and Meredith v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education (consolidated as Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No.1) involved separate challenges by parents who argued that the positive and voluntary integration schemes of school districts, in Jefferson County, Kentucky and Seattle, Washington, violated their children’s rights. Prior to the ruling of the Supreme Court, the lower federal courts upheld the plans and many school districts across the country had similar plans in place to promote racial diversity. However, on the last day of Court’s term, the Supreme Court, in a fragmented opinion held that racial integration was not a compelling enough state interest to allow for the classifications of ones race ultimately to determine his/her entrance or conversely his/her denial of entry into specific public schools. Chief Justice Roberts, finishing out his first term on the bench, authored the ultimate opinion of the Court to which Justices Alito, Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy joined. Roberts’s complete notion that race should never be used to attain diversity in public schools was not endorsed by all members of the majority, resulting in a non-binding plurality opinion written by Roberts. Justice Kennedy, the holdout of the majority bloc, wrote a lone concurring opinion that would allow for race to be considered in certain circumstance where the use of race is narrowly tailored to the state government’s interests. Read more