The Supreme Court’s decision restricting the use of a landmark 2018 drug reform law landed like an anvil Monday morning at the Decarceration Collective, a Chicago law firm that seeks to free people serving life sentences for federal drug crimes.
The unanimous ruling said the law — which has been used to cut the sentences of thousands of federal drug offenders, including many accused of handling large amounts of crack cocaine — couldn’t be used to reduce the sentences of people convicted of possessing small amounts of crack. The court’s ruling came over the objections of the law’s authors, who said they intended to help those low-level offenders, and the Biden administration, whose Justice Department declined to argue for the narrow interpretation of the law in court.
“It’s a shocking loss,” said MiAngel Cody, lead counsel and justice policy analyst at the Decarceration Collective.
Cody said she has represented a “kingpin” convicted of possessing thousands of kilos of crack who was released under the 2018 law, known as the First Step Act, which aimed to ease harsh drug sentencing statutes that has disproportionately punished Black people. But the court’s ruling means people convicted of selling less than 28 grams of crack —about the weight of a AA battery — “can’t go back into court” to seek a reduction, Cody said.
“They just had the door shut in their face, and that’s completely unfair,” she said. “That makes no sense from a public safety perspective.”