The Republican-controlled Tennessee Legislature on Thursday took the extraordinary step of expelling two Democratic members from the Statehouse for their roles in a pro-gun control protest in the chamber last week following the deadly Nashville school shooting.
After hours of debate, lawmakers voted 72-25 to expel Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville and 69-26 to expel Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis after he led chants from a podium on the House floor March 30 in using a megaphone, while hundreds of children and their parents filled the spectator stand to demand gun control.
A vote to expel a third Statehouse member, Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, failed by a single vote. She had argued that the resolution drafted by Republicans to expel him did not accurately describe his behavior; while she stood alongside Pearson and Jones in support of their protest, she did not disrupt proceedings by shouting into the bullhorn.
A two-thirds majority vote was needed to impeach lawmakers. Republicans currently control 75 of the Statehouse’s 99 seats.
Pearson and Jones are both 27-year-old Black men serving their first terms in the Statehouse, while Johnson, 60, is a white woman serving her fourth term. “It might have to do with the color of our skin,” Johnson said said outside the room after the vote.
Invoking the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican who leads the large Republican majority in the House, said the trio’s actions were “at least equivalent, perhaps be worse depending on how you look at it, at having an insurrection at the Capitol.
Although the protest caused the speaker to temporarily freeze his work at the Statehouse, no protesters broke into the building, damaged property, or were arrested. Unlike the 2021 insurrection in Washington, they were allowed in after passing a security check, the Tennessean newspaper reported.
Republicans argued the trio violated the chamber’s procedural rules by approaching the podium to speak without being invited.
Expelled lawmakers could run again for their seats and, if re-elected, could not be expelled for the same offense.
As lawmakers voted for expulsion on Thursday, protesters gathered again. inside And out from the Capitol in support of the so-called Tennessee Three. Chants could be heard outside the chamber for hours as lawmakers met, but Democrats had asked their supporters in the public gallery to remain quiet so they could watch the events. However, once the final vote on Pearson took place, people on the podium chanted “Shame on you!”
Before the vote, each of the targeted Democrats was given the opportunity to address the chamber. In his speech, Jones told colleagues he took extraordinary measures to break decorum in order to defend his constituents. He denounced the vote against him as a “collective lynching gathered not to lynch me but to lynch our democratic process.”
“The world is watching Tennessee because what is happening here today is a farce of democracy,” Jones said.
“The movement for justice can never die,” Pearson said in his speech, “because the heart for justice can never be killed because it lives and beats within each of us.”
Thursday’s evictions drew considerable national attention, including from President Joe Biden. “The expulsion of lawmakers who participated in peaceful protests is shocking, undemocratic and unprecedented,” he said. said on Twitter.
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