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 Ranking Member of the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, which handles constitutional amendments, Federal civil rights, ethics in government, medical malpractice and product liability and other issues.
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.
Below are some of the bills I have introduced relating to issues before the Judiciary Committee:
Protecting Civil Rights
Congressman Cohen introduced the Police Training and Independent Review Act (H.R. 2302) with Congressman Lacy Clay (D-MO) whose district includes Ferguson, Missouri. 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 at on ethnic and racial bias, cultural diversity, and interactions with the disabled, mentally ill, and new immigrants. The bill has been endorsed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Chicago Tribune.
Congressman Cohen repeatedly asked U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open a federal investigation into the shooting of Darrius Stewart by Memphis Police to determine if any civil rights laws were violated. A Justice Department investigation is now ongoing.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act of 2015 (H.R. 1933). This bill 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.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Police Creating Accountability in Making Effective Recording Available (CAMERA) Act of 2015 (H.R. 1680). This bill establishes a grant program to assist state and local law enforcement with the purchase of body cameras to be worn by police officers.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Voter Empowerment Act (H.R. 12). 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 Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015 (H.R. 885). This bipartisan bill restores 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.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 (H.R. 2867). 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 is a cosponsor of the Automatic Voter Registration Act (H.R. 2694). This bill requires states to automatically register anyone who provides identifying information to the state’s department of motor vehicles.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the America Votes Act of 2015 (H.R. 3364). This bill allows voters to provide a sworn, written statement attesting to their identification as a means by which to meet voter identification requirements.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of a constitutional amendment (H.J.Res.25) to 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 is a cosponsor of legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Foot Soldiers who participated in Bloody Sunday, Turnaround Tuesday, or the final Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights March in 1965 (H.R. 431).
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of legislation to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Freedom Riders for their contribution to Civil Rights. (H.R. 671).
Fighting Crime and Seeking Justice
Congressman Cohen offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2016 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 2578) to increase funding by $4 million for programs to reduce the backlog of rape kits at law enforcement agencies. The House of Representatives passed the amendment, and the increase was included in H.R. 2029, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, also known as the FY2016 Omnibus bill. Congressman Cohen voted for H.R. 2029, which passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by President Obama on December 18, 2015.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 (H.R. 3713). This bipartisan bill reduces mandatory minimums for drug offenses and applies them retroactively to offenders who do not have prior serious violent felony convictions. It also expands the drug sentencing “safety valve,” which gives judges more flexibility when dealing with offenders with prior minor misdemeanor convictions. The bill also applies the Fair Sentencing Act retroactively. The Fair Sentencing Act, which Congressman Cohen cosponsored and was signed into law by President Obama in 2010, reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine. On November 18, 2015, the Sentencing Reform Act was reported out of the Judiciary Committee. It is now awaiting floor action.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Background Check Completion Act (H.R. 3051). The bill closes 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 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 Gun Show Loophole Closing Act of 2015 (H.R. 2380). This bill requires 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, has registered as a gun show operator, has not lied as a part of the registration process or concealed information from the registry, and has verified the identity of every vendor who will be participating an upcoming gun show.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Accidental Firearms Transfers Reporting Act of 2015 (H.R. 3125). This bill requires 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.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of a bill to require the Surgeon General to submit an annual report to Congress on the effects of gun violence on public health. (H.R. 224).
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of a resolution to establish a Select Committee on Gun Violence Prevention. (H.Res. 467).
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the End Purchase of Firearms by Dangerous Individuals Act (H.R. 2917). This bill requires states to provide information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System on individuals who are committed to a mental institution or who make threats of violence to mental health professionals such that he or she would pose a danger if armed with a gun.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Buyback our Safety Act (H.R. 307). This bill authorizes $15 million over 5 years to establish a new matching grant at the Department of Justice to bolster local gun buyback initiatives.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015 (H.R. 1076). This bipartisan bill prohibit the distribution or sale of firearms and explosives to any individual who is on the terrorist watch list.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Campaign Sunlight Act of 2015 (H.R. 367). This bill requires sponsors of political advertisements to make the contents and sources of information used in their ads available for public inspection online.
Congressman Cohen is a cosponsor of the Disclosure of Information on Spending Campaigns Leads to Open and Secure Elections (DISCLOSE) Act of 2015 (H.R. 430). 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, requires 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 requires all federally registered lobbyists to disclose their political expenditures.
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:
- 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
On the anniversary of the Charlottesville hate march, planned and carried out by a cabal of hate groups including Klansmen and Neo-Nazis, I call upon Americans to reflect upon the tragic loss of life and the deplorable words and actions of the white supremacists and nationalists, countered by passionate Americans standing for love, tolerance, hope, and kindness.
As I watched Spike Lee’s “The Black Klansman” last night, I thought back on that event and President Donald Trump’s insistence that there were “very fine people on both sides” that day.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) celebrated the passage of the Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on this date in 1965, and made the following statement:
[WASHINGTON, DC] – After writing to Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery late yesterday urging him to seek an injunction against the publishing of blueprints for a 3-D downloadable guns, Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) today cosponsored legislation to block the proliferation of 3-D guns. A copy of Congressman Cohen’s letter to Attorney General Slatery can be found here.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) condemned in the strongest terms the groundless Articles of Impeachment against Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein introduced last night by members of the Freedom Caucus, and made the following statement:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions today urging the Justice Department to continue monitoring the Shelby County Juvenile Court in compliance with a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding. See the letter here.
Shelby County and the Juvenile Court have sought to terminate the agreement.
Congressman Clarifies Remarks about The Purple Heart
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) clarified his remarks at a joint hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Judiciary Committee on which he serves with the following statement:
“I regret mentioning the Purple Heart medal at yesterday’s hearing. My intent was to speak metaphorically to make a broader point about attacks against the FBI and Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into a Russian attack on our country.
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) commended the Justice Department for reopening the Emmett Till murder case that many say galvanized a nascent Civil Rights movement in 1955. The 14-year-old Chicago youth was killed after a white woman claimed he wolf-whistled at her in Money, Mississippi, and his admitted killers were later acquitted by an all-white jury. See Congressman Cohen speaking about the case on the House floor this morning here. He also made the following statement:
WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Law, today questioned the Majority’s rationale for seeking the testimony of FBI Agent Peter Strzok after the Department of Justice’s Inspector General found no evidence of bias impacting its work on the Hillary Clinton email investigation. See his exchange with Strzok here.