Unfinished Business

Civil Rights News: Supreme Court Upholds Retroactivity on Fair Sentencing Act; Obama Urges Extension of Student Loan Interest Rate Reduction; Affordable Care Act Critical to People with Pre-existing Health Conditions

Compiled by David Seidman, a Summer 2012 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

Supreme Court rules offenders covered by more lenient crack-cocaine sentences
Robert Barnes
Washington Post

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fair Sentencing Act, a bill passed in 2010 to reduce the disparities between classification and punishment of crack and powdered cocaine, applied retroactively. Justice Breyer said the 5-4 decision would apply to thousands of people who violated the law before the Act but were sentenced after. Prior to the Act, federal sentencing guidelines treated one gram of crack cocaine as equal to 100 grams of powdered cocaine. Congress passed the Act in part to remedy the racial disparity in sentencing, where people convicted for crack cocaine offenses “tend to be black, and those with powder-cocaine offenses, who tend to be white”.

Obama Calls Passage of Student Loan Legislation a ‘No-Brainer’
Peter Baker
New York Times

President Obama urged Congress to extend the current interest rate on government subsidized Stafford loans. Speaking to a group of young people in the White House, the President said maintaining the current 3.4% interest rate was a “no-brainer”. The interest rate will double to 6.8% if Congress does not act by July 1st. At issue is the source of funding, Republican lawmakers advocate taking money from the preventative care fund, a safety net in the Affordable Care Act designed to help women and children. Democrats want to pay for the extension by closing a tax loophole.

Those Already Ill Have High Stake in Health Ruling
Sabrina Tavernise
New York Times

The more than 17 million uninsured Americans with pre-existing medical conditions face a life changing Supreme Court ruling next week on the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, a provision dependent on the “individual mandate”, the requirement that all Americans be insured. Insurance companies say that an individual mandate is the only way to cover the costs of treating pre-existing conditions by increasing the amount of healthy, premium paying participants. JoAnna Hanson of Nebraska said that because no insurance company would accept her because of a rare kidney ailment, her treatment costs are so expensive that she is forced to choose between rent and feeding her children. Under the ACA, people with pre-existing conditions would receive subsidized coverage through the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan.