NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Republicans expelled two Democratic lawmakers from the state Legislature for their role in a protest calling for more gun control. Here's a look at what could happen next:
Republicans voted last week to expel two Black lawmakers who had approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant after joining protesters calling for passage of gun-control measures.
The protests followed the March 27 shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school in Nashville. Six people were killed, including three 9-year-old children.
GOP leaders argued that the move against Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson was necessary to draw a line against lawmakers using protest to disrupt House proceedings.
Jones and Pearson have regularly criticized the white-majority House chamber.
Jones was once temporarily banned from the Capitol several years ago for throwing a cup of liquid at then-House Speaker Glen Casada during a protest calling for the removal of a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, an early Ku Klux Klan leader.
Pearson faced scrutiny when he wore a black dashiki on the first day of the session rather than a suit and tie. Pearson later said a “white supremacist” attacked his choice to wear the tunic-like garment that originated in west Africa.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, also participated in the House floor protest. She survived a move to expel her by one vote.
Republicans have a supermajority control in the House, which allows them to advance most of the political agenda despite objections from Democrats.
When a legislative seat becomes vacant, county commissions can choose replacements to serve until a special election can be held. So far, no special election has been scheduled.
On Monday, local leaders in Davidson County, which encompasses Jones’ Nashville district, voted to reinstate the ousted lawmaker, allowing him to be sent straight back to the Legislature.
Depending on how fast the commissions and statehouse move, there is a chance that Jones and Pearson could return even before lawmakers adjourn, which is expected to be in several weeks. The expelled lawmakers also would be eligible to run in the special elections to fill the seats.
Over in Shelby County, which includes Pearson's district in Memphis, commissioners could reappoint the ousted Democrat on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton’s spokesperson, Doug Kufner, indicated that whoever is appointed to the vacancies by the Nashville and Shelby County governments “will be seated as representatives as the constitution requires.”
However, the statement did not detail how quickly either lawmaker could be back in the Capitol.
Under the Tennessee Constitution, lawmakers cannot be expelled for the same offense twice.
COULD A REPUBLICAN TAKE EITHER SEAT?
Tennessee is a Republican-dominant state, but the two first-term lawmakers represented House districts that are extremely friendly to Democrats.
No Republican even ran against the pair following successful Democratic primary wins.
Pearson cruised to an easy win over nine other candidates in the January special election for House District 86 following longtime Rep. Barbara Cooper’s death. The district runs from southwest Memphis north to the Millington area.
Jones had a tougher fight in his 2022 primary, beating Nashville Metro Council member Delishia Porterfield by fewer than 250 votes. Porterfield has been among Jones’ supporters during the fight to expel him from the House.
The district includes southeast Nashville and the Nashville International Airport.