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 Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which handles constitutional amendments, Federal civil rights, ethics in government, medical malpractice and product liability and other issues.
Below are some of the legislation I have worked on relating to issues before the Judiciary Committee:
Protecting Civil Rights
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. He has introduced several bills to improve police practices including the Police Training and Independent Review Act, which he introduced with Congressman Lacy Clay (D-MO) whose district includes 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 profiling, and the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. This bipartisan bill places restrictions and transparency measures on the Defense Department’s program that transfers excess military equipment to local law enforcement including preventing transfers of equipment such as grenade launchers, weaponized drones and armored military vehicles that are inappropriate for local policing.
Congressman Cohen is cosponsor of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6545). The legislation authorizes grants to develop and enforce firearm surrender policies, survivor safety and legal assistance to dependent children in appropriate circumstances. It also improves services for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, extends the Rape Prevention and Education grant program, expands grants to help public health officials increase capacity for early childhood programs to address domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, expands housing protections for survivors, and expands firearms laws to prohibit persons convicted of dating violence and stalking from possessing firearms.
He has also cosponsored the No Money Bail Act to eliminate the payment of money as a condition of pretrial release of criminal defendants.
The Congressman is also working to help ex-offenders to reenter 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 ex-offenders 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.
Congressman Cohen is also working to protect the right to vote and make voting fairer and more accessible.
The Congressman is a cosponsor of the Voting Rights Amendment Act to restore 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, as well as 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 has introduced the Streamlined and Improved Methods at Polling Locations and Early (SIMPLE) Voting Act. This bill requires states to allow early voting for federal elections for at least two weeks prior to Election Day. It also ensures that polling locations are within walking distance of a stop on a public transportation route, sufficient voting systems, poll workers, and other election resources are provided, wait times are fair and equitable for all voters across a state, and no one is required to wait longer than one hour to cast a ballot at a polling place. It also allows civil money penalties, intervention by aggrieved parties, and private actions to address violations. He is also 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 Automatic Voter Registration Act to require states to automatically register anyone who provides identifying information to the state’s department of motor vehicles, as well the America Votes Act which allows voters to provide a sworn, written statement attesting to their identification as a means by which to meet voter identification requirements, and the Weekend Voting Act to move election day to a weekend.
To help protect election integrity, the Congressman has cosponsored the Campaign Sunlight Act which requires sponsors of political advertisements to make the contents and sources of information used in their ads available for public inspection online. He is also a cosponsor of the Election Vendor Security Act to require election vendors to be owned and controlled by a citizen or permanent resident of the United States and to disclose whether they are using any foreign-made parts in their products, and the Election Integrity Act to limit the purchase of any new voting systems that do not provide durable voter-verified paper ballots, establish protocols for when there is a voting system failure, prohibit voting systems responsible for tabulating votes from being insecurely connected to the internet, and call for security standards for voting systems used in federal elections. The bill also establishes guidelines for the publication of voter purge lists and a process by which individuals can challenge their placement on a purge list, and requires a mandatory response by the Attorney General for allegations of voter suppression and intimidation.
Congressman Cohen is also a cosponsor of the Disclosure of Information on Spending Campaigns Leads to Open and Secure Elections (DISCLOSE) Act. This bill improves disclosure of campaign-related spending by corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision by requiring corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups to report to the Federal Elections Commission within 24 hours of making a $10,000 campaign expenditure or financial transfer to other groups for campaign activity, requiring corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups stand by their advertising by saying they “approve this message,” requiring corporations, Super PACs and other outside groups to disclose their campaign-related spending to their shareholders and organization members, and requiring all federally registered lobbyists to disclose their political expenditures.
Fighting Crime and Seeking Justice
Congressman Cohen offered an amendment to a Fiscal Year 2018 appropriations package to increase funding by $4 million for programs to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits. The amendment was adopted by the House of Representatives on September 12, 2017, and the package containing it was approved the House of Representatives on September 14, 2017. Ultimately, $2.5 million of this increase was enacted into law in the final package adopted in 2018. The amendment built upon similar amendments offered by Congressman Cohen that have also been enacted into law. In 2014, an amendment by Congressman Cohen increased funding by $5 million. In 2015, an amendment by Congressman Cohen increased funding by an additional $4 million. Including the increase prompted by Congressman Cohen’s most recent amendment, the program has seen an overall increase from $36 million to $47.5 million since 2014 – a nearly 32% increase.
To help reduce gun violence, Congressman Cohen has cosponsored the Assault Weapons Ban which prohibits the sale, transfer, production, and importation of: semi-automatic rifles and pistols with a military-style feature that can accept a detachable magazine, semi-automatic rifles with a fixed magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds, semi-automatic shotguns with a military-style feature, any ammunition feeding device that can hold more than 10 rounds, and 205 specifically-named and listed firearms. He has also cosponsored the Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act which prohibits the sale of bump stocks, which modify semi-automatic rifles to replicate the rate of fire of a fully automatic weapon. Bump stocks were added to weapons used by the Mandalay Bay Hotel shooter. This legislation bans the possession of any fire arms accessory that accelerates the rate of fire of a semi-automatic rifle.
The Congressman is a cosponsor of the Raise the Age Act to prohibit the licensing, selling or delivering certain semiautomatic weapons to persons under 21 years of age. The bill allows for exceptions for individuals who are members of the Armed Forces on active duty, or a full-time government employee whose official duties requires the carrying of a firearm.
He is also a cosponsor of the Gun Show Loophole Closing Act to require 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, have registered as a gun show operator, have not lied as a part of the registration process or concealed information from the registry, and have verified the identity of every vendor who will be participating an upcoming gun show, and the Background Check Completion Act to close 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 currently 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 Accidental Firearms Transfers Reporting Act to require 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, a cosponsor of a resolution to establish a Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, and a cosponsor of the Gun Violence Research Act to give the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the authority to research the causes injuries due to gun violence as well as ways to prevent them. It will also improve the National Violent Death Reporting System and enable health care providers to report threats of violence. It also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress on the effects of gun violence on mental health in minority communities.
Congressman Cohen is also a cosponsor of the Buyback our Safety Act to authorize $15 million over 5 years to establish a new matching grant at the Department of Justice to bolster local gun buyback initiatives, and the End Purchase of Firearms by Dangerous Individuals Act to require that all 50 states provide information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) on individuals who are committed to a mental institution or who express a threat of violence to a mental health professional.
To reduce drunk driving deaths, Congressman Cohen introduced the DUI Reporting Act. This bipartisan bill would requires driving under the influence (DUI) arrests to be reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database as a condition of receipt of full Byrne-Justice Assistance Grant funding, to stop repeat DUI offenders from being mistakenly charged as “first-time” offenders.
Congressman Cohen recommended U.S. Attorney Ed Stanton to President Barack Obama for nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The president nominated Stanton, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved his nomination on October 29, 2015. Stanton’s nomination is now awaiting consideration before the full Senate.
Other Legislative Highlights:
- 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.
- The "Justice Integrity Act" (H.R. 1771 ) would create a pilot program to examine racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system and develop solutions to this injustice. Over the past 30 years while working directly with the people of Memphis and the 9th District, I have spoken to many people in the African-American community regarding their deep misgivings about the fairness of the criminal justice system. I believe the Justice Integrity Act can begin the process of mending fences between law enforcement and minorities and increasing public confidence in the justice system.
- H.R. 2878 would create a new visa category for temporary admissions to the United States solely for the purpose of receiving medical treatment for a serious or life-threatening condition. The new visa category would allow two immediate family members of the patient to accompany him or her. It would also provide a work authorization for any parent who accompanies his or her child under the new visa category if the child's medical treatment will last six months or longer. This legislation is a humane response to a global need for access to the top-quality medical care that American hospitals provide.
- The "Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2010" (H.R. 2028) would amend the federal bankruptcy code to treat privately issued student loans equally with other types of private debt. This would allow them to be discharged in bankruptcy. There is no reason that private student loan lenders should receive special protection under the bankruptcy system. The bankruptcy system should act as a safety net that allows people to pursue an education with the assurance that, should their finances come under strain by layoffs, accidents, or other unforeseen life events, they will be protected.
- The "Byrne/JAG Program Accountability Act" (H.R. 1913 ) would require states and localities that receive federal law enforcement funding to implement policies and practices to identify and reduce racial and ethnic disparities within their criminal justice systems. Racial and ethnic disparities have engendered a crisis of public trust in the integrity of the criminal justice system and fueled perceptions of community bias. This bill would be a critical step toward identifying and eliminating these disparities.
- The "Fresh Start Act" (H.R. 2449 ) would enable non-violent federal offenders who have served their time and lived a clean life ever since to have their convictions expunged from their records. To be eligible for expungement, an offender may not have committed any other state or federal offense, whether violent or non-violent, and must have served their full sentence. This bill would allow people who made a mistake earlier in life, and have paid their debt to society, to wipe the slate clean and lead productive lives.
More on Judiciary
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), who was in the House Chamber Gallery when the rioters invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, fully supports the efforts of the Select Committee looking into the attack.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today applauded the decision by the Department of Justice that the IRS must release President Donald Trump’s income tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee after finding it had a legitimate legislative purpose in requesting them.
Congressman Cohen made the following statement:
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.
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:
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
MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, today expressed his support for the Biden Administration’s gun violence strategy and its work with Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis. Davis was among several municipal officials who met with Biden at the White House on Monday to discuss use of $350 million in American Rescue Plan funding dedicated to implementing proven violence-prevention policies.
Congressman Cohen made the following statement:
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.
MEMPHIS – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, today questioned expert witnesses at a full Committee hearing on “Secrecy Orders and Prosecuting Leaks: Potential Legislative Responses to Deter Prosecutorial Abuse of Power.”
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: