Two Tennessee Democrats Expelled From House Following Guns Protest

The removal of two Democratic members of the Tennessee House of Representatives and the sparing of a third by Republican legislators was denounced by the group as dictatorial, vengeful, and racially motivated.

A little over a week after a mass shooting left a Nashville school in ruins, protesters thronged the state Capitol on Thursday to protest the expulsion of Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson and to call for gun control legislation.

Jones and Pearson pleaded for demonstrators to return to the Capitol on Monday when the House reconvenes, claiming that their expulsion was in response to their leadership of gun control demonstrations on the house floor the previous week.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, a White woman who survived the removal on Thursday, criticized the votes that removed Black lawmakers Jones and Pearson as racist. Johnson responded that the reason is “very clear” when CNN’s Alisyn Camerota asked why she thinks she wasn’t expelled.

Two Tennessee Democrats Expelled From House Following Guns Protest

“I am a 60-year-old White woman, and they are two young Black men,” Johnson said. Before their expulsion, lawmakers interrogated Pearson and Jones in a “demeaning fashion,” she continued.

Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton criticized the three lawmakers’ protests last Thursday, calling them “unacceptable” and claiming they violated “several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor.”

Since Reconstruction, the Tennessee House has only ever expelled two other members, and two-thirds must approve the action of all members.

Democratic politicians and human liberties organizations have denounced Thursday’s expulsions, claiming that voters in Jones’ and Pearson’s districts have been denied the right to vote. Jones and others have argued that the action diverts attention from the actual issue of gun violence.

“Rather than address the issue of banning assault weapons, my former colleagues, a Republican supermajority, are assaulting democracy,” Jones told CNN. “And that should scare all of us across the nation.”

In a statement released on Thursday, President Joe Biden referred to the expulsions as “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent” and chastised Republicans for their inaction on gun control.

“Rather than debating the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee,” the president said.

What is known about the expulsions and what happens subsequently is listed below.

What Led Up To The Expulsions

Jones, Pearson, and Johnson organized a protest on the House floor asking for gun control after a shooter killed three 9-year-old pupils and three adults at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville last week. They led shouts with a bullhorn.

According to CNN station WSMV, Jones claimed that he and the other politicians had been prevented from discussing gun violence on the House floor that week. He claimed their mics had been switched off whenever they brought up the subject.

Three resolutions calling for the expulsion of Jones, Pearson, and Johnson were submitted on Monday. Following the protest, the three members had already been demoted from their committee positions.

Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso, and Andrew Farmer, all Republicans, introduced the resolutions, which alleged that the legislators “did knowingly and purposefully bring disturbance and shame” to the House.

In an interview with CNN, the chair of the Tennessee Republican Caucus, Jeremy Faison, expressed the caucus’ opinion that the matter did not require consideration by an ethics committee and charged Jones and Pearson with a “pattern” of interfering with floor processes.

“We can’t move forward with how they were behaving in committee and on the House floor,” Faison said. “There’s got to be some peace.”

Hendrell Remus, the chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party, described the action as a “direct political attack” on the organization.

“Their expulsion sets a dangerous new precedent for political retribution,” the party said. “The day that a majority can simply expel a member of the opposing party without legitimate cause threatens the fabric of democracy in our state and creates a reckless roadmap for GOP controlled state legislatures across the nation.”

Before the vote, Pearson made a letter to House members public in which he apologized for “not following etiquette” on the floor of the House but justified his behavior.

“My walk to the House floor in a peaceful and civil manner was not an insurrection. I wanted to listen and respond to the voices of Tennesseans who were not give the opportunity to speak in meaningful dialogue with us,” Pearson wrote, according to an image of the letter he shared on social media.

What Happens Next

After being removed, Pearson and Jones’ images and bios were taken down from the Tennessee General Assembly website, and their districts were declared vacant.

In accordance with Tennessee law, temporary House members may be appointed to fill vacant seats while an election is taking place. Johnson asserts that Jones and Pearson might be reappointed to their positions.

“I think we might have these two young men back very soon,” Johnson said Thursday. “It is my promise to fight like hell to get both of them back.”

Pearson said he hopes to “get re-appointed to serve in the state legislature by the Shelby County Commissioners, and many of them, I know, are upset about the anti-democratic behavior of this White supremacist-led state legislature.”

Following their expulsion, Pearson and Jones addressed a crowd and vowed to continue advocating for gun control laws while urging demonstrators to keep coming to the Capitol.

“They thought they won today, but they don’t realize what they started,” Jones said. “They started a movement they can’t stop.”

Also, the ex-representatives attacked the Republican lawmakers for what they perceived as an assault on democracy.

“We demand that democracy be for everybody, not just for rich White men in suits, not just for rich White people who got these positions of power perpetuating the status quo,” Pearson said.

Expulsions of State Representatives Are Rare

In the preceding 157 years, the House has only ever removed two state representatives. The first occurred in 1980 when a member of Congress was found guilty of accepting a bribe while serving in office, and the most recent was in 2016 when a member of Congress was expelled over claims of sexual harassment.

Rep. Joe Towns, a Democrat, referred to the action as “nuclear option.”

You never use a sledgehammer to kill a gnat,” Towns said. “We should not go to the extreme of expelling our members for fighting for what many of the citizens want to happen, whether you agree with it or not.”

In a statement, Kathy Sinback, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, described the action as the “targeted expulsion of two Black legislators without due process.”

She continued, “It raises questions about the disparate treatment of Black representatives, while continuing the shameful legacy of disenfranchising and silencing the voices of marginalized communities and the Black lawmakers they elect.”

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