The Equal Act. which aims to end a longstanding racial disparity in federal prison sentences for drug possession, passed the House overwhelmingly last year. It has been enthusiastically embraced on the left and right and by law enforcement as a long-overdue fix for a biased policy. It has filibuster-proof bipartisan support in the Senate and the endorsement of President Biden and the Justice Department. With control of Congress at stake and Republicans weaponizing a law-and-order message against Democrats in midterm election campaigns, the fate of the measure is in doubt, the New York Times reports. Democrats worry that bringing it up would allow Republicans to demand votes that could make them look soft on crime and lax on immigration, risks they are reluctant to take months before they face voters.
Even Republican backers concede that bringing the bill to the floor could lead to an array of difficult votes. “I assume the topic opens itself pretty wide,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who became the 11th member of his party to sign on to the Equal Act this month, giving its supporters more than the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural obstacles. The uncertainty surrounding bipartisan bills is a clear sign that if legislating on Capitol Hill is not already done for the year, that moment is fast approaching. Virtually any legislation that reaches the floor is bound to attract trouble. Backers of the Equal Act and other criminal justice legislation insist that they can still get their bill passed this year, and that opposition will backfire politically. “This is a real opportunity for bipartisan achievement to eliminate one of the worst vestiges of injustice from American drug policy,” said Holly Harris of the Justice Action Network. “Those who seek to thwart this opportunity for 15 minutes of fame, five minutes of fame — I don’t think that’s going to be rewarded by voters.”