Tennessee House Expels Lawmakers

On April 6, Tennessee state representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were expelled from their seats, while a third lawmaker, Gloria Johnson, narrowly maintained her position.

The expulsions came after all three lawmakers led gun control protestors on the Tennessee House floor in response to a shooting that left six dead at the Covenant School in Nashville. All three lawmakers were Democrats and all the votes to expel were Republican lawmakers.

Republicans justified these expulsions, by arguing that the protesting lawmakers broke decorum rules and that expelling them set an example for others. Democrats argued that Republicans were trying to silence these representatives, and that they were motivated by other factors including race and age.

Boston Latin School history teacher Mr. Nicholas Fogel comments on the gravity of the situation, “We think of democracy as something that is set in stone, but there are a series of rules that can be manipulated, and I think we saw that in this case.”

On April 10, the Nashville Metropolitan Council unanimously voted to reinstate Justin Jones to his seat, and Justin Pearson was also reinstated on April 13. Both have now pledged to run again in a special election in the future.

The fallout from the actions of the legislature has gained national attention, with lawmakers from around the country weighing in on the issue. President Joe Biden met with the three lawmakers at the White House on April 24, and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Nashville to visit them. It also sparked conversations around the potential biases that contributed to these actions. Both expelled lawmakers were among two of the youngest Black members, while Gloria Johnson is an older white woman.

BLS history teacher Mr. Daniel DeVelis shares his opinion about the Republicans’ actions, saying, “For the action of the supermajority Republican House to expel these lawmakers trying to serve the people’s interest, it’s certainly not a good look.”

In addition, this controversy has sparked accusations of hypocrisy among Democrats, who accuse the Republicans of not expelling other Republican members who were accused of sexual assault, questionable comments, and inappropriate retaliation against colleagues. Democrats further claim that Jones and Pearson would not have been expelled if they were Republicans.

These explusions are not the first to be deemed as unjustified. Back in 1920, the New York Assembly expelled five lawmakers from the Socialist Party due to the perceived threat that their ideology would pose. Those lawmakers were eventually reinstated, but that fight raised into question voters’ rights to elect their representatives.

As a result of the recent events, Tennessee’s Republican Governor Bill Lee has pushed for a red flag law that would take firearms away from people who are deemed as security risks. As of this writing, however, Tennessee Republicans have not taken action on the legislation, with the governor pledging to call another special session in order to force the legislature to take action. Protesters have continued to fight for gun control at the Tennessee state capitol.

Niall Reynolds (I) comments on the broader picture of this issue. “This isn’t, and never has been about disrupting the rules. It is about restricting the conversation around gun violence, and it illuminates just how far the right will go to keep their NRA [(National Rifle Association)] money flowing.”