Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Civil Rights

I have the great honor of serving on the House Judiciary Committee.  The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over a wide range of issues including crime, civil rights and civil liberties, immigration, bankruptcy, antitrust, intellectual property, and all constitutional amendments.

I currently serve as Ranking Member of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, which handles constitutional amendments, Federal civil rights, ethics in government, medical malpractice and product liability and other issues.

Key legislation I authored to stop "libel tourism" -- a practice by which plaintiffs seek judgments from foreign courts against American authors and publishers for making allegedly defamatory statements -- was considered in the Judiciary Committee before it was signed into law by President Obama.  This phenomenon threatens to undermine our nation's core free speech principles, as embodied in the First Amendment.  My law will prohibit U.S. courts from recognizing or enforcing foreign defamation judgments that do not comport with the First Amendment.

In 2008, I introduced and passed the first-of-its-kind House resolution apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African Americans. Only by acknowledging that many African-Americans live with the consequences of our nation’s past sins and addressing them can we fully live up to our founding ideals: equal access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Below are some of the bills I have introduced relating to issues before the Judiciary Committee:

Protecting Civil Rights

Congressman Cohen introduced the Police Training and Independent Review Act with Congressman Lacy Clay (D-MO) whose district includes Ferguson, Missouri.  The legislation creates an incentive for states to require independent investigation and prosecution of incidents in which police use of deadly force results in a death or injury.  It also requires sensitivity training at on ethnic and racial bias, cultural diversity, and interactions with the disabled, mentally ill, and new immigrants.  The bill has been endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Chicago Tribune.

Congressman Cohen repeatedly asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a federal investigation into the shooting of Darrius Stewart by Memphis Police to determine if any civil rights laws were violated.  A Justice Department investigation is now ongoing.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act.  This bill prohibits law enforcement from engaging in racial profiling, grants victims of racial profiling the right to file suit, authorizes grants to collect data relating to racial profiling, and requires state and local law enforcement to certify that they have eliminated any practices that permit or encourage racial profiling.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Police Creating Accountability in Making Effective Recording Available (CAMERA) Act.  This bill establishes a grant program to assist state and local law enforcement with the purchase of body cameras to be worn by police officers.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Voter Empowerment Act.  The bill ensures access to online voter registration and same day registration, ensures that all provisional ballots are counted, provides for informed, reliable poll workers, creates national voter hotline, and ensures votes are counted correctly.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Voting Rights Amendment Act.  This bipartisan bill restores the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck down portions of it in Shelby County v. Holder by establishing a new, nationwide coverage formula for preclearance.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act.  This bill restores the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck down portions of it in Shelby County v. Holder, and makes improvements to the underlying law.  This bill updates the Voting Rights Act by restoring the preclearance requirement and adds a new coverage formula that would initially include 13 states but can be adjusted over time as conditions warrant.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Automatic Voter Registration Act.  This bill requires states to automatically register anyone who provides identifying information to the state’s department of motor vehicles.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the America Votes Act.  This bill allows voters to provide a sworn, written statement attesting to their identification as a means by which to meet voter identification requirements.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of a constitutional amendment to explicitly guarantee that every U.S. citizen of legal voting age has a fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which he or she resides.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Freedom Riders for their contribution to Civil Rights. (H.R. 671).

Fighting Crime and Seeking Justice

Congressman Cohen offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act to increase funding by $4 million for programs to reduce the backlog of rape kits at law enforcement agencies.  The House of Representatives passed the amendment, and the increase was included in H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, also known as the FY2016 Omnibus bill.  Congressman Cohen voted for H.R. 2029, which passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Sentencing Reform Act.  This bipartisan bill reduces mandatory minimums for drug offenses and applies them retroactively to offenders who do not have prior serious violent felony convictions.  It also expands the drug sentencing “safety valve,” which gives judges more flexibility when dealing with offenders with prior minor misdemeanor convictions. The bill also applies the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively.  The Fair Sentencing Act, which Congressman Cohen cosponsored and was signed into law by President Obama in 2010, reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. On November 18, 2015, the Sentencing Reform Act was reported out of the Judiciary Committee.  It is now awaiting floor action.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Background Check Completion Act. The bill closes the loophole that allowed the shooter in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina to obtain a gun.  The Brady Act mandates criminal background checks for all gun sales at licensed firearm dealers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  While the vast majority of checks are processed within minutes, if NICS has not completed its background check after three days, the dealer is allowed to proceed with the sale.  The bill stops the sales of firearms until the background check is completed.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act.  This bill requires operators of gun shows to undergo a background check to ensure that they are at least 21 years old, not prohibited from transporting or shipping guns, has registered as a gun show operator, has not lied as a part of the registration process or concealed information from the registry, and has verified the identity of every vendor who will be participating an upcoming gun show.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Accidental Firearms Transfers Reporting Act.  This bill requires the Federal Bureau of Investigation to report the number of guns transferred as a result of a failure to complete a background check within three days, as well as what occurred after it was discovered that someone received a gun who was ineligible to have received it.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of a bill to require the Surgeon General to submit an annual report to Congress on the effects of gun violence on public health

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of a resolution to establish a Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the End Purchase of Firearms by Dangerous Individuals Act. This bill requires states to provide information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System on individuals who are committed to a mental institution or who make threats of violence to mental health professionals such that he or she would pose a danger if armed with a gun.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Buyback our Safety Act.  This bill authorizes $15 million over 5 years to establish a new matching grant at the Department of Justice to bolster local gun buyback initiatives.

Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act.  This bipartisan bill prohibit the distribution or sale of firearms and explosives to any individual who is on the terrorist watch list.

More on Civil Rights

February 17, 2017 Enewsletters

Dear Friend,

February 16, 2017 Press Release

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today discussed the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States since the start of the 2016 Presidential Election with Rabbi David Saperstein, the former United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, at a House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice Hearing entitled, “The State of Religious Liberty in America.” 

February 10, 2017 Enewsletters

Dear Friend,

February 8, 2017 Press Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today released the following statement after the U.S. Senate voted nearly along party lines to confirm Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the next Attorney General of the United States:

February 3, 2017 Enewsletters

Dear Friend,

February 1, 2017 Press Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, today introduced the Streamlining and Improving Methods at Polling Locations and Early (SIMPLE) Voting Act, which would ensure that every state allows citizens to vote for at least two weeks prior to federal elections and require that states provide adequate poll workers and other resources to prevent wait times of longer than one hour.

January 31, 2017 Press Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, sent a letter to the Department of Justice requesting information on complaints it has received on voter suppression in 2016.

January 19, 2017 Enewsletters

Dear Friend,

January 19, 2017 Press Release

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today released the following statement after reports that President-elect Donald Trump is planning dramatic cuts to several important federal programs.