By Nicole Austin-Hillery, the Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Washington, D.C. office
This week, the Supreme Court helped move our nation one step closer toward creating a fairer criminal justice system. In its ruling for Dorsey v. United States, the Court confirmed what advocates have long known: Under the Fair Sentencing Act (FSA), signed into law by President Obama in 2010, it is unjust to sentence individuals under the onerous guidelines that existed prior to enactment of the law. To do so, would, in the words of the Court, "create disparities of a kind that Congress enacted the Sentencing Reform Act and the Fair Sentencing Act to prevent." In effect, these individuals were charged and convicted but not yet sentenced before the new law took effect only by sheer coincidence of timing.
Such cases are commonly known as "pipeline" cases. The five justice majority ruled plainly that the less draconian sentencing provisions under the FSA apply for individuals sentenced after the new law's enactment but whose offense occurred before. This decision is not, however, simply about the correct application of the FSA. More importantly, it speaks to the work that remains to be done to ensure the complete eradication of a hideous disparity in our criminal justice system, which has disproportionately harmed poor and minority communities.