Rep. Cohen pledges to tackle NSA in new top spot

As the new top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) is pledging to tackle government surveillance and civil rights.

“Whether safeguarding the voting rights that we hold sacred and a woman’s right to choose, curtailing government surveillance overreach, or working to bring justice to the victims of outdated and racially-biased mandatory minimum sentences, I am committed to doing all that I can to protect the Constitution and the civil rights of all Americans,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Cohen rose to the ranking member slot on the subcommittee when Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), who had served as the panel’s ranking member or chairman since 2001, was selected to be the top Democrat on the Courts, Intellectual Property and Internet Subcommittee last week.

Nadler took over for former Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.), who left Congress to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.  

The Constitution and Civil Justice subcommittee has jurisdiction over constitutional rights, civil rights and legal reform.

Critics of surveillance programs at the National Security Agency (NSA) have alleged that they may violate some of the rights guaranteed by the first and fourth amendment, which protect free speech and prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures.

Cohen last year introduced the FISA Court Accountability Act, which would change the way that the 11 judges are chosen for the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which authorizes government surveillance. The bill would also declassify information about the decisions.