Today the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Terry v. United States, interpreting the First Step Act.
Scotusblog commentary is here and begins as follows:
Justices reject sentencing reductions for some crack-cocaine offenders
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Monday that people convicted of certain low-level crack-cocaine offenses are not eligible for sentencing reductions under the First Step Act, a 2018 law that made some criminal-justice reforms retroactive. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the opinion for the court in Terry v. United States.
In my view, the most interesting thing about the Court’s opinions is Justice Sotomayor’s lengthy footnote explaining that she refuses to join Part I (i.e., the facts and background section of the opinion!) because “it includes an unnecessary, incomplete, and sanitized history of the 100-to-1 ratio [for crack versus powder cocaine sentences].” The footnote is noteworthy both for its frank acknowledgment of the racial implications of the ratio and because of how rare it is for individual Justices to refuse to join Part I of a statutory interpretation opinion. Indeed, Justice Sotomayor’s refusal calls to mind another memorable Part I in a statutory interpretation case that two majority-opinion-joining Justices refused to sign onto: Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion in Flood v. Kuhn, the baseball case that famously began with a Part I that was essentially an Ode to Baseball. Thomas’s Part I in Terry v. United States is no Ode to the 100-to-1 ratio, but it joins Justice Blackmun’s Part I in Flood as a rare example of a background section that offended sufficiently to prompt judicial distancing.