Biographical Information | Public Office | Community Involvement | Honors

Congressman Steve Cohen is a fourth-generation Memphian who has dedicated his life to public service. As a child, the challenges of living with polio taught him how to overcome obstacles through persistence and determination, values which would shape his career as a legislator. Filing to run for office on the same day he first registered to vote, Congressman Cohen stepped onto the path that has defined his life and affected the lives of people in Memphis, across Tennessee and now across America throughout his career in national, state and local politics.

During his term as a Shelby County Commissioner, Congressman Cohen cast the deciding vote for the creation of The MED which today, as Regional One Health, has one of the finest trauma care and burn center units in the Mid-South.  This would be the first in a long line of votes during his career that would define his legislative philosophy: fighting to ensure the basic human rights of every American, such as access to health care.

During his 24 years in the Tennessee State Senate, Congressman Cohen amassed a strong record of passionate, honest and unselfish service. He consistently spurned special interests to stand up for the people’s interests. In 1984, he drafted and passed a resolution creating one of the first state Holocaust Commissions in America to educate others about and to commemorate the Holocaust. On issues ranging from civil rights to funding for the arts to women's rights to animal welfare, Congressman Cohen was a relentless advocate in the Tennessee State Senate even in the face of overwhelming opposition. Before he was elected to Congress, he became known throughout the state as the “Father of the Tennessee Lottery,” after leading the referendum effort that instituted arguably the most successful education initiative in Tennessee history.

Since the inception of the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship program in 2004, over $6 billion has gone to students continuing their education at the college level. As a State Senator, Congressman Cohen fought for nearly twenty years before the State Lottery was established. Countless students have benefited from Congressman Cohen's tireless efforts to provide Tennesseans with access to affordable, quality, post-secondary education. 

Congressman Cohen being sworn in by Nancy PelosiUpon election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, Congressman Cohen immediately distinguished himself on the Hill for his thoughtful legislation and quick wit. He also quickly earned a reputation as a champion of civil rights and justice on the highly influential Judiciary Committee, with then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referring to him as the “conscience of the freshman class” in 2008. That same year, he was instrumental in passing the first-of-its-kind House resolution apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African Americans. 

large_Lottery Bill signingCongressman Cohen has remained a steadfast leader on issues of importance to the people of the 9th District, working closely with former President Barack Obama and leading the policy debate on issues like infant mortality, universal health care, the economy, crime and criminal rehabilitation, veterans issues, transportation and infrastructure, and of course, education. His persistence and hard work has paid off with a $30 million Choice Neighborhood grant to redevelop and revitalize Foote Homes and surrounding areas, a  $15 million TIGER grant to create jobs and fund the Main Street to Main Street Connector Project to make major improvements to the Main Street corridor as well as connect to West Memphis with the Big River Crossing pedestrian and bike trail along the Harahan Bridge, an additional $9 million in the federal budget and a $2 million dollar federal grant to the city of Memphis to help reduce the backlog of untested sexual assault kits that could catch predators and prevent crime, and many other projects and policies. Congressman Cohen also lead the effort in Congress for the state of Tennessee to receive a guarantee disproportionate share hospital (DSH) allotment totaling more than $530 million over the next 10 years to help the state’s hospitals and community health centers recoup expenses incurred caring for those who cannot afford to pay.

In November of 2015, Congressman Cohen was named a member of the Highway Bill Conference Committee where he worked with his colleagues from the House and Senate to craft the first bipartisan, long-term surface transportation bill in a decade to improve our nation's infrastructure. In May 2016, Congressman Cohen was named a member of the Opioids Package Conference Committee where he worked to address the opioids crisis in the United States. In January of 2017, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi appointed Congressman Cohen to serve on the powerful House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee to set the Democratic policy agenda and nominate Democratic Members for committee assignments. In February 2017, Leader Pelosi appointed Congressman Cohen to serve on the House Ethics Committee.

President Obama nominated several of Congressman Cohen’s recommendations for federal positions, including Judges John Fowlkes, Sheryl Lipman and Bernice Donald, U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III, and TVA Board Members V. Lynn Evans, Ron Walter and Bishop William Graves, who have all been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Congressman Cohen has been named the 35th most effective Democratic lawmaker by the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University. In 2019 Congressman Cohen was named Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s influential Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. He was also selected to join the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and serve as Vice-Chair of the newly formed Medicare for All Caucus.

conyers_townhallCongressman Cohen has also dedicated himself to providing outstanding constituent service to the citizens of Memphis. The doors of his District Office in the Clifford Davis/Odell Horton Federal Building are always open for constituents, and Congressman Cohen has hosted more than a hundred district events around the city. His town halls often include visiting leaders such as the late Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (MI-14) and singer/activist Harry Belafonte. He has never faltered in fighting for those who do not have the power bestowed by wealth and advantage, and his goal is as it has always been: to ensure that everyone – regardless of race, class or creed – has the opportunity to achieve their American dream.

Biographical Information

  • B.A. Vanderbilt University 1971
  • J.D. University of Memphis School Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law 1973
  • Established legal practice in 1978 after serving as a legal advisor for the Memphis Police Department
  • Born May 24, 1949, Memphis, TN

Public Office

  • U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman, 110th Congress 2007/2008, re-elected 111th Congress 2009/2010, re-elected 112th Congress 2011/2012, re-elected 113th Congress 2013/2014, re-elected 114th Congress 2015/2016, re-elected 115th Congress 2017/2018
  • Tennessee General Assembly, State Senator, 93rd through 104th Sessions, 1982 to 2006
  • Shelby County Commissioner, 1978-80
  • Delegate and Vice-President of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention, 1977

Community Involvement

  • Memphis College of Art, Board of Trustees 1988-2002
  • Memphis Zoological Council 2001-2006
  • Memphis Zoological Society, Board of Directors 1988-2000
  • Circuit Playhouse, Inc., Board of Directors 1977-Present
  • Memphis Redbirds Foundation 1998-2003
  • Memphis/Shelby County Center City Commission
  • NAACP, Lifetime Member
  • Tennessee Holocaust Commission, 1984 - 2006


2019: Recieved a 100+% voting rating on the Humane Society Legislative Fund's annual Legislative Scorecard

2018: Perfect Voting Record on the "Progressive Public Health and Environmental Scorecard" sponsored by National Nurses United, Food & Water Watch, and Progressive Democrats of America

2017: 2017 TAA Public Policy Award from the Tourette Association of America; Distinguished Service Award from the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA); 2017 Appreciation Award for Contribution to U.S.-Azerbaijani Diplomatic Relations; 2017 AOPA Freedom to Fly Award; Named the 35th most effective Democratic lawmaker by the Center for Effective Lawmaking at the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University

2016: Received the 2016 Humane Champion Award from the Humane Society; Received the 2016 Easter Seals Outstanding Advocate Award; Received the 2016 Inauguaral GBTA Navigator Award; Named 2016 Drug Policy Reform Champion by Drug Policy Action; 

2015: Received the 2015 Champion for Children Award from the First Focus Campiagn for Children; Received the 2015 Humane Champion Award from the Humane Society; Nominated as a Caregiving Champion by the National Alliance for Caregiving; Friend of the National Parks Award from the National Parks Conservation Association; Most Outstanding Politician Award at the 20th Annual Stone Awards

2014: Outstanding Legislator Award from the Tennessee Nurses Association; Excellence in Public Service Award from Wiley College; Named "Champion of Reform" by the Drug Policy Alliance; Perfect Voting Record from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Perfect Voting Record on the Humane Society's Legislative Scorecard; Perfect Voting Record on Food Policy Action's National Food Policy Scorecard.

2013: Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Memphis Alumni Association; Perfect Voting Record from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; Humane Champion Award from the Humane Society; Award of Appreciation for Outstanding Achievement in recognition of continued environmental advocacy from the Chickasaw Group of the Sierra Club; Public Policy Award from The Tourette Syndrome Association; Perfect Voting Record from NARAL Pro-Choice America; Legislator of the Year Award from The Institute of Real Estate Managemeent and the CCIM Institute; Friend of the National Parks Award from the National Parks Conservation Association.

2012: Defender of Children Award from the First Focus Campaign for Children; Humane Champion Award from the Humane Society; Most Valuable Policymaker Award from the Sports Fans Coalition; Tribute of Hope Award from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization; Named Public Offical of the Year by the Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers; National Urban League award for cosponsoring the Urban Jobs Act of 2011; Named a Defender of Children by the First Focus Campaign for Children. 

2011: Friend of the National Parks Award from the National Parks Conservation Association.

2010: NFL Gridiron Greats Award for his work on reducing head injuries in football; Tennessee Equal Justice 2010 Legislative Leadership Award from Memphis Area Legal Services for his work to increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation and for working to address racial and ethnic disparities in the federal criminal justice system; American Bar Association Day Award for his work to promote equal access to justice; Trinity Community Coalition Outreach Appreciation Award for his work to help combat drug and alcohol abuse, recidivism and homelessness.

2009: America Hero Award from; 14th Annual Stone Award Politician of the Year; Exhoodus Council’s first annual Urban Peace and Courage Award; “Candle on the Bluff Award” presented by the Memphis Chapter of Morehouse College Alumni and New Olivet Baptist Church; Humane Society "Humane Champion" award.

2008: The Vida Foundation's D. Emelio Castelar Work Recognition Award (International Humanitarian Award presented in Madrid, Spain); Memphis Flyer "Best of Memphis" Reader's Poll: Best Memphian; Selected as one of the Forward 50 by The Forward, America's largest Jewish newspaper, recognizing the most influential Jewish Americans of the year; 13th Annual Stone Awards Recipient: Most Outstanding Politician; Tennessee Communication Association's Communicator of the Year; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Award of Excellence for Public Service; Tennessee Principals Association "Friend of Education Award;" Alpha Kappa Alpha Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter AKAward For Outstanding Public Service in the Area of the Economic Keys to Success; Honorary Degree from LeMoyne-Owen College

2007: Planned Parenthood "Bob James Award"; Memphis Gridiron Show Headliner Award – Mid-South Newsmaker of the Year; Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) Region IV Political Award; Business Tennessee 2007 Power 100: Top 100 Most Powerful People in Tennessee; U.S. Humane Society 2007 Humane Champion Award

2006: Tennessee Humane Association Legislative Achievement Award - In Recognition and Appreciation of Continued Support of Animal Related Legislation.

2004: Shelby County Democratic Party "William W. (Bill) Farris Political Leadership Award"; Business Tennessee Magazine "Power 100"; University of Memphis Society "Walter Barret Distinguished Service Award"; University of Memphis "Eye of the Tiger Award"

2003: National College Board "Excellence in Education" award, presented at NCSL Convention; Boys and Girls Clubs of Tennessee "Legislator of the Year Award"; Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist's "Legislator of the Year"

2002: Tennessee Human Rights Campaign "Public Leadership Award"

2001: Governor's Awards in the Arts "Leadership Award"; Executive Seminar for Legislative Leaders; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

2000: AAA Legislator of the Year Award; Holocaust Commission award; AutoZone Park Opening Day First Pitch

1999: TN Pediatrics Society Friend of Children Award

1998: Memphis Arts Council/"Memphis Theatre Award"

1997: Common Cause of Tennessee "Bird Dog Award" for ethics

1996: University of Tennessee-Memphis Faculty Senate's Presidential Citation; Memphis Magazine Reader's Poll "Best Local Politician"

1995: Lorin Hollander Arts Award from the Tennessee Arts Academy; Memphis Women's Political Caucus Good Guys Award

1994: Unitarian Fellowship Dr. Peter Cooper Award

1992: Tennesseans for the Arts Advocate Award; Tennessee Bill of Rights Award; Tennessee Association of County Election Officials Award; Common Cause of Tennessee "Bird Dog Award" for ethics; Sierra Club "green list" top rating in Senate

1991: Community Mental Retardation Agencies of Tennessee Legislator of the Year Award; The Blues Foundation Keeping the Blues Alive Award

1988: Save Shelby Farms Award

1987: Memphis Arts Council Commendation