Tennessee’s Justin Jones and Justin Pearson Win Back Their Seats After Expulsion

The House GOP supermajority expelled the two Black Democrats after they led a protest against gun violence in April following a mass elementary school shooting.

Politics
Tennessee’s Justin Jones and Justin Pearson Win Back Their Seats After Expulsion
Photo:Jason Kempin (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, State Reps. Justin Jones (D) and Justin Pearson (D)—two Black legislators who co-led a protest against gun violence from the floor of the Tennessee statehouse—won reelection to seats the Republican supermajority had infamously expelled the pair from back in April. Jones and Pearson, along with state Rep. Gloria Johnson (D), led chants for gun control on the State House floor after a shooting at a Nashville elementary school left three children and three adults dead.

Republicans voted to expel Jones and Pearson, but spared Johnson, a white woman, for the same supposed offense. The pair were reinstated on an interim basis by local authorities who are responsible for filling the seats in such an event (no rules say they can’t put the same people back in the position). Winning Tuesday night’s special election was critical to finish their two-year terms.

“Well, Mr. Speaker, the People have spoken,” Jones tweeted on Thursday night. “The FIND OUT era of politics is just beginning. See you August 21st for special session.”

Jones first won his seat representing the Nashville area with no Republican opponent in 2022, but defeated Republican Laura Nelson on Tuesday, per CNN. Pearson also faced no Republican opponent when he won his Memphis-area seat and defeated independent Jeff Johnston on Tuesday, per the network.

Pearson thanked his supporters and called out his detractors early on Friday morning. “Sunday always comes! @tnhousegop @TNGOP You can’t expel a Movement! You can’t expel Hope! Resurrection is a promised prophecy to a persecuted people! Thank you District 86 and our Movement for your votes, love, prayer, and support! We did it!!!!!” he tweeted.

The move by the Republican supermajority sparked national outrage. As the AP reported, only two lawmakers have been expelled from the legislative body since the Civil War. The fact that the two this time were Black, while the spared woman was white, was not lost on the public.

The two men were accused of going to the podium without being officially recognized to speak. They led student protesters in the galleries via bullhorn as the crowds chanted, “Gun reform now”—which feels like a pretty reasonable and inherently democratic thing to do after yet another mass school shooting.

At the time, state House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) said the actions were “maybe worse” than the Jan. 6 insurrectionists who tried to overturn the 2020 election by violently storming the U.S. Capitol and scrawling “murder the media” on its doors. “They were not recognized,” Sexton complained. “I started speaking, and they pulled out a bullhorn and started making a protest on the House floor.”

Yes, that was the terrible thing that happened that week. Not multiple people being shot to death in a school!

Johnson called out the hypocrisy on display by her colleagues. “We had a child molester on the floor for years, they helped him get reelected and did nothing to expel him,” Johnson said. “We’ve had members pee in each other’s chairs. We’ve had members illegally prescribe drugs to their cousin-mistress, and nothing happened. But talk on the floor without permission, and you’ll get expelled.” (One of the lawmakers who voted to eject the Justins resigned about a month later due to to a violation of the legislature’s sexual harassment policy.)

The Tennessee House remains a Republican supermajority, but at least the will of the voters who originally sent Pearson and Jones to the statehouse will be honored. Twice.

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