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 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

Voting 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.

Racial Profiling

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.

Police Reform

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.

Gender Equality

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

August 24, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today spoke in support of passage for H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The historic measure, named for the late champion of civil rights, Georgia Congressman John Lewis, will protect voting rights by restoring important provisions of the Civil Rights Act that have been steadily eroded by U.S.

August 16, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a virtual hearing on “Oversight of the Voting Rights Act: Potential Legislative Reforms.” The hearing was the sixth on the subject of voting rights this year and comes a day before H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, is expected to be introduced in the House.

July 27, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a hearing on “The Need to Enhance the Voting Rights Act: Practice-Based Coverage.” The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would address the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling gutting preclearance rules that had required the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to review and approve changes to state laws affecting such issues as ID requirements and redistricting that could have a discriminatory effect.

July 21, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today voted to advance the Eliminating the Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law (EQUAL) Act to from the Committee to a House floor vote.  The bipartisan sentencing reform measure would finally end the disparity between crack and powder cocaine offences.

 

In remarks before the vote, Congressman Cohen said in part:

 

July 16, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a hearing on the “Implications of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Potential Legislative Responses.” The July 1 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court limits the applicability of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it harder to challenge discriminatory voting laws.

In his opening statement, Chairman Cohen said in part:

“More troubling than the outcome in the individual cases at issue in Brnovich was the reasoning underlying it and its potential impact in future cases alleging vote denial claims under Section 2.

“In a brazen opinion, the Court in Brnovich created out of thin air five ‘guideposts’ that lower courts are to follow in assessing vote denial claims under Section 2. These guideposts are found nowhere in the VRA, directly contradict Section 2’s purpose, and potentially narrow its scope. As Justice Kagan wrote in dissent, the Court was operating in a ‘law-free zone.’

“Depending on how lower courts interpret and apply these “guideposts,” any one of them can become a giant loophole for states and localities to discriminate against minority citizens. Taken together, they can present a formidable obstacle for future Section 2 plaintiffs alleging vote denial claims.”

See the entire opening statement here.
See Chairman Cohen’s questioning of expert witnesses here.

Witnesses at today’s hearing were:

• Mr. Sean Morales-Doyle
Acting Director, Voting Rights & Elections, Democracy, Brennan Center for Justice
• Mr. Robert D. Popper
Senior Attorney, Judicial Watch
• Mr. Ezra Rosenberg
Co-Director, Voting Rights Project, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
• Mr. Nicholas Stephanopoulos
Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
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July 2, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – In advance of Sunday’s observance of America’s 245th birthday, Congressman Cohen (TN-09) released the following statement:

“On Sunday, friends, family and neighbors will gather for barbecues and fireworks to celebrate our nation’s independence. When our founders signed the Declaration of Independence 245 years ago, they set us on a path to liberty and freedom that has become the envy of the world.

July 1, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, which has jurisdiction over voting rights, today introduced the John Tanner Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act. The measure, named for longtime Tennessee Congressman John Tanner, would require states to take their congressional apportionment out of the political process and place it in the hands of independent redistricting commissions.

June 29, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today voted to remove statues honoring former officials of the Confederate States of America who fought against the United States of America in the Civil War from the U.S. Capitol. Congressman Cohen has been a leader in the effort to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and founder of the Ku Klux Klan, from the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville.

The vote on passage was 285 to 120.

After the vote today, Congressman Cohen made the following statement:

June 29, 2021 Press Release

 

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today presided at a hearing on “The Need to Enhance the Voting Rights Act: Preliminary Injunctions, Bail-in Coverage, Election Observers, and Notice.”

In his opening statement, Congressman Cohen said in part: