After the The Covenant School shooting in Nashville that killed six people, Tennessee’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted on April 6th to expel two of the three Democratic lawmakers who joined protests at the state Capitol. The group that has been called “the Tennessee Three” includes Justin Jones (D-Nashville, he/him), Justin Pearson (D-Memphis, he/him), and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville, she/her). While Jones and Pearson were expelled for violating rules of decorum, the resolution to expel Johnson was one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed.
The move sparked outrage among prominent Democrats and highlighted racial tensions; Jones and Pearson are both Black, while Johnson is White. In a statement, the NAACP called the incident “horrific, [but] not surprising.” President Joe Biden (he/him) tweeted that the expulsion was “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.” Vice President Kamala Harris (she/her) visited Fisk University in Nashville on April 7th. She spoke out in support of the three representatives and reiterated the President’s call for a national assault weapons ban, according to USA Today.
Jones and Pearson were both reinstated by their counties last week. On April 10th, the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County voted unanimously to send Jones back to the House. He was sworn back in the same day. In a speech in front of the Capitol, he said, “Today we send a resounding message that democracy will not be killed in the comfort of silence. This is not about one person. It’s not about one position. It’s about a movement.” Likewise, Pearson was reinstated by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners and was sworn in on April 13th.
“God needed to reignite this movement to end gun violence,” Pearson told a crowd of supporters. He added that “you can’t expel a movement. You can’t silence the voice of the people.”
The Hill reported that a group of five Senate Democrats sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland (he/him) requesting that the Department of Justice investigate the expulsion and if it violated any civil rights statutes. They denounced the move as “undemocratic” and noted that the state legislature has never expelled anyone for violating House rules.