Criminal Justice Reform

As the Chairman on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Congressman Cohen is working to protect civil rights as well as reform the criminal justice system to make it more fair. 
The Congressman is also working to support  ex-offenders as they reenter society and become productive members of society.  He introduced the Fresh Start Act to give nonviolent ex-offenders a chance to start over again. It allows them to apply for expungement to the court where they were sentenced and allows the United States Attorney for that District to submit recommendations to the court. Applicants who are denied could reapply once every two years. Once seven years have elapsed since an offender has completed his or her sentence, expungement will be automatically granted. However, sex offenders and those who commit crimes causing a loss of over $25,000 will not be eligible for automatic expungement.  The bill also encourages states to pass their own expungement laws for state offenses. States that pass a substantially similar law would receive a 5 percent increase in their Byrne funding while those that do not would lose 5 percent of their Byrne funds.  Congressman Cohen has also cosponsored the Second Chance Reauthorization Act. This bill reauthorizes funding for programs to help inmates become productive and law abiding citizens after they are released.  Programs include education, housing, job training, drug treatment and medical care. 
The Congressman has also cosponsored the Fair Chance Act.  This “ban the box” bill prohibits federal agencies and contractors from requesting that applicants for employment disclose certain criminal activity in their history records before receiving a conditional offer. 

He has also cosponsored the No Money Bail Act to eliminate the payment of money as a condition of pretrial release of criminal defendants. 

Congressman Cohen voted for the First STEP Act. Signed into law in 2018, the measure gives judges more latitude to work around mandatory sentences where appropriate, and allows offenders who were sentenced before Congress reduced the disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine in 2010 to petition to have their cases re-evaluated for possible sentence reductions.  It also enables certain prisoners to participate in evidence-based recidivism reduction programs to earn credits to complete the last portion of their sentence in a residential reentry center or home confinement, and encourages the placement of offenders at prisons closer to their homes where possible. The law also prohibits the shackling of pregnant women. 
The Congressman has also introduced several bills to improve police practices including the Police Training and Independent Review Act, which he introduced with Congressman Lacy Clay (D-MO) of Ferguson, Missouri, and Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).  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 on ethnic and racial bias, cultural diversity, and interactions with the disabled, mentally ill, and new immigrants.  The bill is supported by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 
Congressman Cohen has also introduced the National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act to require states, as a condition of receipt of full Byrne Justice Assistance Grant funding, to collect data in all instances in which deadly force was used and report it to the Department of Justice, and the Police Creating Accountability in Making Effective Recording Available (CAMERA) Act to establish a grant program to assist state and local law enforcement with the purchase of body cameras to be worn by police officers.  
Congressman Cohen has also cosponsored the End Racial Profiling Act to prohibit law enforcement from engaging in racial profiling, grant victims of racial profiling the right to file suit, authorize grants to collect data relating to racial profiling, and require state and local law enforcement to certify that they have eliminated any practices that permit or encourage racial profilingThe bipartisan Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act places restrictions and transparency measures on the Defense Department’s program that transfers excess military equipment to local law enforcement and prevents transfers of equipment such as grenade launchers, weaponized drones and armored military vehicles that are inappropriate for local policing. 

More on Criminal Justice Reform

May 7, 2021 Press Release


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.

April 20, 2021 Press Release

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.


March 25, 2021 Press Release

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.

March 17, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties today voted for, and the House passed, an extension of the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Congressman Cohen presided at the first hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment in 36 years in May of 2019, and he has been a longtime and consistent supporter of gender equality.

In a floor speech today before the votes, Congressman Cohen said:

March 11, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today participated in a Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing on “Controlled Substances: Federal Policies and Enforcement.” Congressman Cohen, a longtime member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, was an original cosponsor and voted for the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which passed the House in December.

March 11, 2021 Press Release

MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today voted for and the House passed H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, and H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, to clarify and strengthen firearms transfer laws.

H.R. 8 requires a background check for every gun sale or transfer.  The bill provides some specific commonsense exceptions such as allowing a person to give a gun as a gift to a family member; loaning a gun for hunting or target shooting; or temporarily transferring a gun for self-defense.

March 8, 2021 Press Release

found guilty

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Kelly Armstrong (ND-At Large) today introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Prohibiting Punishment of Acquitted Conduct Act of 2021The legislation would end the unjust practice of judges increasing sentences based on conduct for which a defendant has been acquitted by a jury.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa introduced the measure in the Senate last Thursday.

March 3, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, tonight expressed deep satisfaction at the passage of the groundbreaking George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which he believes will help build trust between police departments and the communities they serve. The measure contains major elements of bills Congressman Cohen authored, including the National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act, the Police CAMERA Act, and Police Training and Independent Review Act.

February 26, 2021 Press Release

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today introduced a measure to enforce Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibiting those who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States from holding public office.

February 25, 2021 Press Release

Bills aimed at improving police-community relations, diversity training