I am writing you from Charleston, South Carolina, where I joined President Obama and members of Congress today [June 26] in paying my respects to the victims of the Charleston Church shooting. This week, we saw a number of changes in our country. The Supreme Court ruled that Memphians can keep the healthcare subsidies they receive through the Affordable Care Act and also ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in all 50 states, and Governor Haslam called for the Confederate flag to be removed from Tennessee license plates.
I am pleased that the nation is coming around and making a change on two issues I fought the good fight for in the Tennessee General Assembly almost 20 years ago — I was one of only two votes in the state Senate to stop the license plate from being added and the only vote against banning gay marriage.
Condolences in South Carolina
I appreciate the President inviting me to join him in Charleston today [June 26] and wish to express my condolences to the family and loved ones of all the victims of last week’s hateful killings at Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
I’m both honored and humbled to share this somber day with the members of Emanuel AME and the entire Charleston community, whose response to this tragedy has been inspiring and shows us the power of love and forgiveness.
The killings last week were a terrorist attack on all African Americans and on humanity itself. They are a wake-up call that we must be more vigilant against hate. I am proud to have authored and passed the first Congressional apology for slavery when I arrived in Washington. I hoped it would help spark a conversation about the lingering effects of slavery and Jim Crow in our society.
This morning’s service and the response of the community here in Charleston should inspire conversation and motivate elected officials to take the actions necessary to rectify the remaining consequences of America’s original sin.
Remove symbol of Confederacy
This week, South Carolina’s governor and legislative leaders called for the Confederate Flag to be removed from the state capitol’s grounds, Gov. Haslam called for the flag to be removed from state license plates, and I voted to take down the Mississippi flag (which includes the Confederate flag in its design) from the U.S. Capitol grounds.
The flag represents slavery, racism, and a rejection of the United States of America — and our government shouldn’t promote it.
Yesterday [June 25], the Supreme Court ruled that the subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act through healthcare.gov are legal. I am pleased the Court has reaffirmed the law, which is working and making health coverage affordable for millions of Americans, including more than 230,000 Tennesseans who are receiving an average of $213 each month through the law.
I hope that this ruling will help the nation to see that the Affordable Care Act is a federal law that is keeping Americans healthy and alive, and that it is here to stay.
I also remain hopeful that the Tennessee General Assembly will finally act to expand Medicaid so that our citizens can access the same benefits of the law that residents of other states do.
I hope today’s [June 26] Supreme Court ruling that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry can put this issue to rest and that the Tennessee General Assembly does not attempt to thwart or undermine the ruling by passing legislation making it more difficult for Memphians to exercise their constitutional rights. As the Supreme Court has now said, denial of marriage rights is clearly a denial of equal protection, regardless of its effectiveness as a means to score political points at the expense of yet another minority group.
Fighting for voting rights
In the past, people have been beaten or even killed in the struggle to ensure the right to vote was available to all Americans. But we are still seeing efforts to curtail this constitutional right throughout the country. It is clear that we must restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act to effectively fight discrimination.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, which I cosponsored this week, will address this urgent need and help ensure the sacred right to vote is not denied.
Criminal justice system reforms
I joined Republican Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Democratic Ranking Member John Conyers in holding a roundtable yesterday [June 25] on how we can work together to enact meaningful criminal justice system reforms that save money, keep our communities safe, and provide fairness and justice for those who have already served long sentences for non-violent crimes.
I have introduced a number of legislative proposals, from increasing transparency in police use of deadly force to removing conflicts of interest in prosecuting rogue officers, and giving non-violent offenders who have completed their sentences a chance to get jobs and turn their lives around.
I have also joined Con-gressmen Bobby Scott and Jim Sensenbrenner as a cosponsor on the bipartisan SAFE Justice Act, a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that includes some of my proposals.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) may be reached online at cohen.house.gov/contact-me.