Tennessee Lawmakers Vote to Expel State Representatives


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Hannah Osborne, Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, April 6, the Tennessee House voted to expel two of the three Democratic representatives nicknamed the “Tennessee Three.” The three, Reps. Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson were recommended for expulsion by Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso and Andrew Farmer who sponsored the expulsion resolutions. The expulsions were suggested on the grounds that the three lawmakers knowingly participated in the disruptions of House proceedings in the previous week.

The events proceeded those of Monday, Mar. 27, when an armed assailant and former student of The Covenant School, a private grade school in Nashville, claimed the lives of three students and three staff members. Due to these events, the House delayed voting on gun reform bills until Thursday, Mar. 30. On this day, protestors flooded the capitol and galleries of the House to fight for stricter gun regulations.

Jones, Johnson and Pearson, representing districts of Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville, respectively, took action on the House floor and joined the chorus of the gallery to protest alongside their constituents. The Republican-led House accused the three of violating decorum rules through their actions.

Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R) appeared on the Hallerin Hilton Hill radio show comparing the events of the day to the insurrection of Jan. 6, saying, “…what they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the capitol.” Sexton also accused the trio of attempting to incite violence and riots in the Tennessee capitol.

As of Thursday morning, Jones and Johnson had already been stripped of committee assignments, while newly elected Pearson had yet to receive any formal assignments.

According to “The Tennessean,” only three lawmakers have previously been expelled from the Legislature since the end of the Civil War when six lawmakers were expelled for attempting to block the citizenship of former slaves. Since then, two Representatives and one Senator have been expelled on grounds of accepting bribes, sexual misconduct and federal wire fraud charges.

The three were given the opportunity to defend themselves ahead of the vote. Jones took the opportunity to point out the actions taken by current and former members of the Legislature that did not result in expulsion, citing a member who admitted to child molestation, a member found guilty of domestic violence and a member who urinated in another member’s chair.

“A state in which the Ku Klux Klan was founded is now attempting another power grab by silencing the two youngest Black representatives and one of the only Democratic women in this body. That’s what this is about. Let us be real today,” said Jones while addressing the House.

On Thursday, the House voted to expel both Jones and Pearson, while Johnson narrowly escaped expulsion by a single vote. Jones was expelled in a 72-25 vote, and Pearson’s vote had a 69-26 result. Many, including the expelled lawmakers and Johnson, have speculated that the reason for Johnson’s escape is related to the fact that she is a White woman, while Jones and Pearson are both young, Black men.

“You cannot ignore the racial dynamic of what happened today,” Pearson said in a statement to news outlets following the session resulting in the Representatives’ expulsion.

Despite the expulsions taking immediate effect, both Jones and Pearson could be reinstated or re-elected to their House seats. At least 27 members of Nashville’s Metro Council have vouched to reinstate Jones; this could be as early as Monday evening.

“Civil disobedience is what built this country. Resisting the status quo built the United States of America into the institution it is today. And it was my ancestor’s resistance that got me here today,” said Pearson.

As of now, the two seats remain vacant, leaving a combined estimate of 130,000 Tennesseans unrepresented.