Tennessee GOP lawmakers expel two Democrats over mass shooting protest

Tennessee Republican Legislators voted on Thursday to expel two Democratic lawmakers who joined a protest on the House floor last week after a deadly shooting at a school in Nashville.

On March 30, protesters gathered at the State Capitoland Democratic Representatives Justin Jones, Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson launched a chant of “power to the people” from the floor of the House.

On Thursday, lawmakers initially voted 72 to 25 to oust Jones, 27, one of the youngest members of the legislature. The resolution to evict Johnson failed by a vote, 65 to 30. But Pearson, 28, was also evicted, in a 69-26 vote. The GOP supermajority had accused the representatives of breaking house rules on conduct and decorum.

“It’s not about kicking us out as individuals. It’s your attempt to kick the people’s voices out of the people’s house. It’s not going to succeed,” Jones said ahead of the vote. “Your overreaction, your false power flexing has awakened a generation of people who will let you know your time is up.”

THE forced expulsion of legislators of any state legislative body in the United States is extremely rare. The Tennessee House has already expelled eight lawmakers — six Confederate racists in the 19th century for refusing to affirm the citizenship of former black slaves, one in the 20th century for a bribery conviction and one in the 21st century for sexual misconduct.

“Today’s expulsion of lawmakers who engaged in peaceful protests is shocking, undemocratic and unprecedented,” President Biden said in a statement late Thursday. “Rather than debate the merits of the issue, these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence and expel the duly elected representatives of the people of Tennessee.”

Each of the lawmakers facing expulsion had time to speak before the vote.

“The world is watching Tennessee,” Jones said. “What is happening here today is a farce of democracy. What is happening here today is a situation in which the jury has already announced the verdict publicly.”

Jones said he was speaking on behalf of young voters in his district ‘terrified’ by the mass shootings and criticized the house for not expelling other members who confessed to crimes or misbehaved in their role.

Tennessee lawmaker expelled
Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, listens to remarks on the floor of the House chamber in Nashville Thursday ahead of a vote to expel him along with two other reps during a protest against gun control.

George Walker IV/AP

In remarks ahead of the vote, Johnson, a retired teacher, called “untrue” claims that she shouted and pounded the podium during the protest. She also recounted her own experiences with a school shooting.

“I have to make the voice of the people in my district heard. My parents sent me here because I’m a fighter,” Johnson said.

Johnson, 60, defended his younger colleagues facing deportation. “We have to welcome this younger generation, who may be doing it a little differently, but who are fighting for their constituency,” she said just before the vote.

When the resolution to evict him failed, Johnson’s supporters in the chamber broke into cheers.

In his remarks before the vote, Pearson, who is black, invoked the civil rights movement and civil disobedience, saying the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had spoken of putting “conscience above rule.”

“We’ve heard thousands of people asking us to do something about gun violence,” Pearson said. “What is in the best interest of our people is to end gun violence.”

“This country was built on protest,” he added in his moving opening speech. “You who celebrate July 4, 1776, you say protesting is wrong.”

Ahead of the votes, Republican Rep. Johnny Garrett slammed the three lawmakers and offered to release a seven-minute video showing the lawmakers on the floor during the protest. The release of the video was opposed by Democrats, who questioned its relevance, provenance and the value of releasing it.

Tennessee Representatives Pearson, Johnson and Jones walk through a crowd of supporters at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville
Tennessee Representatives Justin Pearson, Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones walk through a crowd of supporters at the Tennessee State Capitol as Republicans who control the Tennessee House of Representatives prepare to vote on whether to evict the three Democratic members for their role in a gun control protest at the State House last week, in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 6, 2023.


The video showed Johnson, Jones and Pearson talking on the floor of the house, using a megaphone to amplify their voices. Some lawmakers were gathered behind them and protesters could be heard in the background. Democrats have questioned the video because filming on the floor violates house rules, with Democratic Speaker Rep. John Ray Clemmons calling it hypocritical that the person who made the video would not be punished for the same way as Johnson, Jones and Pearson.

The eviction votes drew national attention, with Republicans in Tennessee facing intense political criticism. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused lawmakers of focusing on reprimanding Democrats and “shrugging their shoulders at yet another tragic school shooting as our kids continue to struggle.” pay the price”.

Three children and three teachers were killed in school shooting at Covenant Private School in Nashville, Tennessee. The shooter was armed with multiple weapons and was killed by police minutes after the attack was reported.

“What have the Republican lawmakers done? They are trying to expel these three Democratic lawmakers who joined the protest,” Jean-Pierre said on Wednesday.

Several votes were held before the legislators’ expulsion vote. Those votes were on bills, including HB322, to bolster schools with locked doors and drills, which passed 95-4, with the “Tennessee Three” and another Democrat voting no. House Bill 1051, which would expand mental health benefits across the state, passed with 97 votes in favor and no votes against. The House also passed bills to make schools safer and an amendment that would implement a mobile panic alert system that would allow first responders to communicate in real time also passed.

Pearson challenged the bills and said they did not go far enough.

“Are you saying the kids will go to school and these resource officers will have AR-15s on them?” Pearson asked. “It’s part of what I think is a symptomatic problem of not addressing the root causes. The root cause that all of us need to address is this epidemic of gun violence due to the proliferation of guns.”

Bo Mitchell, another Democrat, likened the bills to using “pain medication to treat cancer,” pointing out that the United States is an exception when it comes to school shootings and ” mass killings”. Cheers from outside the room could be heard as he spoke.

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