President Obama met with civil rights leaders, including LDF Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill, on Wednesday. The meeting with civil rights leaders focused on key areas of alignment between the President’s agenda and that of civil rights leaders. This included economic issues including raising the minimum wage and promoting registration with the Affordable Care Act, and criminal justice reforms recently announced by Attorney General Eric Holder. The group also discussed ongoing concerns with the protection of minority voting rights in the wake of last year’s Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder decision. LDF is fighting attacks on voting rights in Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and other southern states.
The attendees also discussed the racial disparities that continue to plague the criminal justice system. Ifill commended the President’s decision last month to grant clemency to eight individuals convicted of non-violent drug related crimes who were serving out excessively long sentences. These individuals were sentenced prior to the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 (FSA), which reduced disparities between sentences for crimes involving crack and powder cocaine. LDF has argued in the Court of Appeals for the retroactive application of the FSA to inmates serving sentences imposed before the law’s enactment.
Ifill also commended the Attorney General’s promotion of “smart on crime” initiatives designed to promote public safety and address the needless overcharging of low-level drug offenders, to promote reentry initiatives and reduce collateral consequences of incarceration. As Ifill noted on MSNBC yesterday, the disproportionate effect of our misguided criminal justice policies is born by African Americans and Latinos. “The increase [in the prison population]is due largely to nonviolent drug offenders being incarcerated,” she noted “and it’s decimating our communities.”
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