Tennessee expels 2 of 3 Democratic legislators over gun protests

Two Democratic lawmakers were expelled Thursday from Tennessee’s state legislature for protesting during a call for more gun control following a school shooting that left six dead, The Associated Press reported.

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After hours of debate Thursday, the majority Republican legislature voted to expel Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson. A third Democrat who was part of the protest, Rep. Gloria Johnson, survived expulsion on a 65 to 30 vote, falling one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed in the 99-seat chamber.

The split votes drew accusations of racism from some in the chamber. Jones and Pearson are Black and Johnson is white.

“What is happening here today is a farce of democracy,” Jones said during the 20 minutes he was given to defend his actions.

“What is happening here today is a situation in which the jury has already publicly announced the verdict. What we see today is just a spectacle. What we see today is a lynch mob assembled to not lynch me, but our democratic process.”

Hundreds of protestors chanted outside the building as the process went on for hours Thursday.

The incident that led to the expulsion of the legislators happened in the wake of the shootings at The Covenant School on March 27, when three adults and three children were shot and killed.

While protests calling for stronger gun control measures were taking place at the State Capitol last Thursday, Jones, Pearson and Johnson interrupted the legislature by chanting “No action, no peace” on the House floor. Jones and Pearson used a bullhorn, and, eventually, legislative proceedings were halted.

None of the three had been recognized to speak from the well of the floor.

The speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton, said their actions violated House rules of decorum and procedure, according to The New York Times. Sexton revoked their ID access to the State Capitol building and had stripped two of the three lawmakers of their committee assignments.

Sexton compared the three to the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, according to CNN.

Pearson told reporters Thursday that in carrying out the protest, the three had broken “a House rule because we’re fighting for kids who are dying from gun violence and people in our communities who want to see an end to the proliferation of weaponry in our communities.”

In the expulsion hearing on Thursday, Republican Rep. Andrew Farmer said Pearson had thrown a “temper tantrum with an adolescent bullhorn.”

“That yearning for attention, that’s what you wanted?” said Farmer, who spearheaded Person’s expulsion motion. “Well, you’re getting it now.”

The resolutions to remove the lawmakers stated that they “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives,” saying they “began shouting without recognition” and “proceeded to disrupt the proceedings of the House Representatives” for just under an hour Thursday morning.

The removal of the two lawmakers comes under Article II, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution, which allows the House to “punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”

President Joe Biden criticized the vote Thursday.

The legislature is set to reconvene on Monday, and Jones says he will be at the Capitol.

“I will continue to show up to this Capitol with these young people whether I’m in that chamber or outside,” Jones told reporters.

Pearson told reporters he hopes to be re-appointed.

“I do hope to get re-appointed to serve in the state legislature by the Shelby County Commissioners, and a lot of them, I know, are upset about the anti-democratic behavior of this white supremacist-led state legislature,” he said.

Expulsion from the Tennessee Legislature is rare. According to CNN, In the last 157 years, the House has expelled only two lawmakers. One was expelled after being found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office, and another was expelled over allegations of sexual harassment.

According to the Tennessean, no House member has ever been removed from elected office for simply violating decorum rules.