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 Ranking Member of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, 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.
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. This is why I am devoted to working to reform the criminal justice system, ensure education is accessible to all people and protect the voting rights of all Americans.
Protecting Civil Rights
As a Member of Congress I have 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. I am a proud to be 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. That being said, I believe 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, I 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. I will continue 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.
I 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. My bill would require sensitivity training requirements regarding racial bias, cultural diversity, and interactions with the disabled, mentally ill, and new immigrants. My bill was endorsed by the NAACP, the Chicago Tribune, and has the support of the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus. I cosponsored 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. In the past, I pushed for the Justice Department to open a federal investigation concerning the shooting an unarmed African American teenager by Memphis police, and will continue to advocate for acknowledgment of potential civil rights infringements for my constituents.
I believe 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. I have dedicated my career to fighting for civil rights and civil liberties, and as the Ranking Member of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, I will continue to follow these issues closely.
I have 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. I introduce 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.
When the Supreme Court struck down portions of it in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, I cosponsored the Voting Rights Advancement Act to establish a new, nationwide coverage formula for preclearance and make improvements to the law. In addition, I cosponsored legislation that requires 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. I have 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.
I have been a tireless advocate for women’s equality in Congress. I believe that it is important that women are not denied their reproductive rights. I stand with Planned Parenthood and the essential preventative health services such as mammograms, HIV testing, and access to birth control that it provides. I remain committed to fighting for women’s health care and will oppose any efforts to defund Planned Parenthood or repeal the Affordable Care Act that could put many low-income and minority women at risk. I also work to ensure that women have the ability to protect their rights against wage discrimination. I cosponsored The Paycheck Fairness Act, because I believe 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.
I have been a long-time supporter of women’s rights initiatives, especially when it pertains to making personal decisions regarding women’s health and family. I believe that it is important to ensure affordable abortion coverage and care for every woman. I have long been a strong supporter of a woman's right to choose and I believe that this choice is one that should remain between a woman and her doctor. I will continue to fight for women’s rights here and abroad, and I will urge my House and Senate colleagues in Congress to do the same.
I was honored to attend the Women’s March in Memphis. We must continue to foster a sense of civic engagement in order to effect change in these challenging times. I will continue to fight for the rights of all citizens and work to protect civil liberties.
Throughout my career, I have also worked to extend and protect civil rights and liberties of the LGBT community. I was proud to cosponsor the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that called for the federal government to recognize the validity of same-sex marriage. I applaud the Supreme Courts same-sex marriage ruling, a significant milestone for the LGBT community. I signed the Student Non-Discrimination Act because I am a firm believer that any type of discrimination is an injustice to the equality shared among the citizens of the United States of America. While I agree that we must do everything possible to respect the private beliefs of citizens, we must also stop the continued discrimination against Americans and prevent future acts of prejudice.
More on Civil Rights
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today recognized Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, with his Congressional colleagues. Congressman Cohen recalled that, at the urging of his friend and constituent Ira Lipman, he sponsored and passed legislation to create the Tennessee’s Holocaust Commission as a state senator in 1984. He has been a consistent supporter of legislation and other Congressional efforts to assure the perpetual memory of those lost in the Holocaust.
Congressman Cohen made the following statement:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today recalled the important role Linda Brown played in the unanimous landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that declared state laws creating separate schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional. Brown died Sunday at 75.
Congressman Cohen made the following remarks:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) announced that the National Park Service has awarded historic preservation grants totaling $570,000 to the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development and National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States. The funds come through the NPS’s African American Civil Rights Grants Program, and will help to finance projects for the Memphis Heritage Trail and the historic Clayborn Temple.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) and co-sponsors Ann Wagner, Tony Cardenas and Adam Kinzinger praised passage of the Stop, Observe, Ask and Respond (SOAR) to Health and Wellness Training Program (H.R. 767) today, a measure aimed at detecting ongoing human trafficking activity. The Representatives made the following statements:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) applauded Gov. Bill Haslam’s announcement Wednesday of the inclusion of three important Civil Rights historic sites in Memphis as part of the newly announced multi-state U.S. Civil Rights Trail, and made the following statement:
WASHINGTON – Upon learning of today’s announcement of State Representative Johnnie Turner’s retirement, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement:
“I am proud to have worked with Representative Turner, both in her capacity as Executive Secretary of the NAACP and in the Tennessee General Assembly. Like her husband, she has been a voice of truth and a fighter for justice, and is among the last of a generation of civil rights leaders who have done so much for Memphis. I appreciate her many years of dedicated service, and she will be missed in Nashville.”
[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today introduced the Fresh Start Act, a bill that would enable certain non-violent ex-federal offenders who have served their sentences and are now law-abiding, productive members of society to have their convictions expunged from their records.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) noted the passing of Memphis native Richard K. “Kirk” Bowden, a retired U.S. Marshal who protected Civil Rights figures in the 1960s, and made the following statement:
“I was saddened to learn of the passing of former Deputy U.S. Marshal Richard ‘Kirk’ Bowden who, as a deputy U.S. marshal, was one of a small group who protected James Meredith when he travelled off campus after integrating the University of Mississippi in 1962. Bowden later guarded Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1963 March on Washington.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced a bipartisan resolution today recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last visit to Memphis. Cosponsors include the entire Tennessee delegation of the House of Representatives. Congressman Cohen made the following statement: