I have the great honor of serving on the House Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over a wide range of issues including criminal justice system, civil rights, civil liberties, and voting rights. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I take my oversight duties very seriously.
I currently serve as Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which has jurisdiction over all constitutional amendments and federal civil right laws among other issues. Making sure that my constituents’ rights are not infringed upon is of the utmost importance to me. Toward that end, I am devoted to protecting the voting rights of all Americans, working to reform the criminal justice system, and ensuring that education is accessible to all people.
Incidents of unarmed African Americans dying at the hands of police in cities such as Memphis, Baltimore, Ferguson, New York City and others have led to many protests across America. While most police officers spend their careers admirably protecting the communities they serve, it is unfortunate that there have been a string of incidents where some officers discharged their weapons against unarmed African Americans. Disparities in the criminal justice system and the death of unarmed African Americans have fueled calls for reform. As someone who has always supported civil rights and liberties for all people, I am particularly concerned about the systemic causes of the protests and unrest in these communities.
I am also deeply disturbed by recent challenges to voting rights and attempts to suppress votes in minority communities. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, and I am working to protect this right and make it easier for Americans to exercise it.
Protecting Civil Rights
The Congressman has cosponsored numerous pieces of legislation to safeguard access to online voter registration and same day registration, to push for poll workers that are informed and reliable, to create a national voter hotline, and to ensure that all provisional ballots are counted votes. He introduced the Streamlining and Improving Methods at Polling Locations and Early (SIMPLE) Voting Act, to ensure that every state allows citizens to vote for at least 15 days prior to federal elections and require that states provide adequate poll workers and other resources to prevent wait times of longer than one hour.
In response to the Supreme Court’s decision that down portions of the landmark Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Congressman Cohen cosponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act to establish a new, nationwide coverage formula for preclearance and make improvements to the law. In addition, he has cosponsored legislation to require states to automatically register anyone who provides identifying information to the state’s department of motor vehicles, as well as, legislation that allows voters to provide a sworn, written statement attesting to their identification as a means by which to meet voter identification requirements. The Congressman has also cosponsored constitutional amendments that 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 has cosponsored legislation that 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. The Congressman is a cosponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act.
When, where and against whom police use deadly force is a serious issue that deserves both urgent attention and careful thought. Unfortunately, no meaningful statistics are kept to help us understand how to best prevent deadly force from being used inappropriately. The Congressman believes that states should be required to collect data on all instances in which deadly force is used by police and report that information to the U.S. Department of Justice. The required reporting would include the race, ethnicity, gender, and age of the individual against whom the deadly force was used as well as an explanation as to why non-lethal efforts were not employed or were ineffective. For this reason, the Congressman introduced the National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act, which would close a loophole in federal law that prevents adequate collection of comprehensive national data regarding justified and unjustified use of deadly force with police. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, the Congressman is continuing to press for vitally important legislation that will ensure that our community is safe while respecting the difficult job our men and women in law enforcement perform every day.
Congressman Cohen introduced Police Training and Independent Review Act which would create 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. The bill would require sensitivity training requirements regarding racial bias, cultural diversity, and interactions with the disabled, mentally ill, and new immigrants. His bill has been endorsed by the NAACP, the Chicago Tribune, and has the support of the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus. He also introduced the Police Creating Accountability in Making Effective Recording Available (CAMERA) Act, a grant program that would assist state and local law enforcement with the purchase of body cameras to be worn by police officers. The Congressman believes that this country can do better than to allow unarmed youth to be unnecessarily chased, shot, and ultimately killed without any punishment of the perpetrator. We have a real problem in this country when it comes to the relationship between police and communities of color, which they are sworn to protect and serve. The Congressman has dedicated his career to fighting for civil rights and civil liberties, and as the Ranking Member of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, he is continuing to follow these issues closely.
Congressman Cohen has been a tireless advocate for women’s equality in Congress. He believes that it is important that women are not denied their reproductive rights. He stands with Planned Parenthood and the essential preventative health services such as mammograms, HIV testing, and access to birth control that it provides. The Congressman remains committed to fighting for women’s health care and opposes any efforts to defund Planned Parenthood or repeal the Affordable Care Act that could put many low-income and minority women at risk. He has also worked to ensure that women have the ability to protect their rights against wage discrimination. The Congressman cosponsored The Paycheck Fairness Act because he believes that with increased information on wage data and a commitment to eradicating wage discrepancies, our nation’s women would be better prepared to recognize and enforce their rights.
The Congressman has been a long-time supporter of women’s rights initiatives, especially when it pertains to making personal decisions regarding women’s health and family. He believes that it is important to ensure affordable abortion coverage and care for every woman. He has long been a strong supporter of a woman's right to choose and believes that this choice is one that should remain between a woman and her doctor. The Congressman is committed to continuing to fight for women’s rights here and abroad, and continuing to urge his House and Senate colleagues in Congress to do the same.
The Congressman was honored to attend the Women’s March in Memphis.
Reducing the School to Prison Pipeline
Congressman Cohen offered an amendment to the Student Success Act, also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act to allow Title II funds to be used for restorative justice and conflict resolution training. Using these techniques rather than suspension, expulsion or involving the police has been proven to reduce the School to Prison Pipeline. Similar language was included in the Senate version of the bill which was ultimately signed into law by President Obama.
More on Civil Rights
WASHINGTON – Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Bobby L. Rush (IL-01) will hold a virtual forum on the FBI’s notorious COINTELPRO program recently featured in the Academy Award-winning film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which dramatizes the FBI-orchestrated assassination of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton in 1969. The forum will be on Monday, May 10, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Congresswomen Gwen Moore (WI-04), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) and Jahana Hayes (CT-05) today introduced the Making Essentials Affordable and Lawful (MEAL) Act to lift restrictions on the receipt of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits for people with prior felony drug convictions.
Congressman Cohen made the following statement:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a hearing on “Oversight of the Voting Rights Act: The Evolving Landscape of Voting Discrimination.”
In his opening statement, Chairman Cohen said:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, released this statement after a Minneapolis jury convicted former Officer Derek Chauvin of the murder of George Floyd.
“The jury has spoken and justice has been served.”
Congressman Cohen, the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, was a co-sponsor and voted for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act which includes provisions for police accountability that he authored.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, today applauded the Judiciary Committee vote sending H.R. 40, legislation to create a commission to study reparations for African Americans, to the House floor. This historic development follows Chairman Cohen’s presiding at a February 17 hearing on the measure first proposed more than 30 years ago by the late Congressman John Conyers of Michigan.
MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) made the following statement after learning this morning of the passing of Congressman Alcee Hastings of Florida:
MEMPHIS – On Sunday, as many celebrate Easter, many in Memphis and around the world will also silently commemorate the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in our city 53 years ago. Congressman Cohen released the following statement:
“Dr. King came to Memphis to demonstrate that all labor has dignity and was killed as he stood up for the rights of striking sanitation workers. As we commemorate his life, let’s be mindful of the work he started and be dedicated to advancing human rights, labor rights, racial justice and an end to war.”
MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today introduced Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Bernice B. Donald of Memphis and questioned her at a hearing of the Subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet on “The Importance of a Diverse Federal Judiciary.”
In his introduction of Judge Donald, Congressman Cohen referred to her as “one of the most distinguished jurists in the United States of America.” See that introduction here.
MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a hearing on “the Need to Expand Eligibility Under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.” The hearing explored the impact of downwind and other radiation exposure from nuclear bomb testing and uranium mining and other uranium workers during the Second World War and during the Cold War, and the need to compensate the many victims not currently eligible under RECA.
MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, applauds the Committee for passing his bill, H.R. 390, to redesignate the Federal Building located at 167 North Main Street in Memphis as the “Odell Horton Federal Building,” . The bill was passed by a voice vote and is now eligible for consideration by the full House of Representatives.