Expulsions in the Tennessee State House

Tennessee House expels two of the three lawmakers who protested against gun violence in the chamber.

Last week, on Monday 27th, a devastating school shooting occurred in Tennessee. 3 children- Evelyn Dieckhause, Hallie Scruggs, William Kinney- and 3 adults- Cynthia Peak, Katherine Koonce, and Mike Hill- were killed. This absolute senseless violence is not the first- and it will sadly not be the last. In the aftermath of the tragedy, hundreds of students, teachers, and lawmakers have marched demanding action to be taken for stricter gun laws. In the  Tennessee House of Representatives, 3 lawmakers, named the “Tennessee Three”, took action to stand with the thousands of people affected by gun violence every day. These representatives were Justin Jones, Justin J. Pierson, and Gloria Johnson. All three of these lawmakers spoke about their personal experiences with gun violence. Rep. Justin Jones, only 27 years old, has been an activist and community leader in Tennessee for over a decade and he spoke on his first protest following the murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of white supremacy and gun violence. Rep. Justin J. Pearson spoke on how he lost a close family member to gun violence. Rep. Gloria Johnson spoke of her experiences following a school shooting as a teacher. However, these 3 lawmakers were quickly targeted and threatened with expulsion, simply for advocating for and joining their community peacefully.  This action has already resulted in two of these members being ousted. Continue reading for a full breakdown of the events. 

What occurred in the Tennessee House?

In solidarity with the protestors whom they also joined, Jones, Pierson, and Johnson began chanting “No action, no peace” on the State House Floor, which caused the proceedings to come to a pause. They were simply practicing freedom of speech in a nonviolent manner, however, the house speaker, Cameron Sexton, was quick to accuse them of disobeying rules of “decorum and procedure”. He even went as far as to compare them to the infamous violent rioters who stormed the capital on January 6th and called the event an “insurrection”. It is absolutely ridiculous to compare 3 lawmakers demanding action in the wake of a tragedy to criminals who threatened democracy. Three Republican lawmakers filed on Monday to have them formally expelled and were cleared through the chamber only hours later. They accused each lawmaker of “knowingly and intentionally bring[ing] disorder and dishonor”. 


Now, let’s make it clear that these “expulsions” are not common and especially not for this use. Expulsions have only occurred a few times throughout history and for serious offenses. It first occurred following the Civil War, when six lawmakers were expelled after refusing to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. An expulsion occurred in 1980 after it was discovered that a lawmaker solicited a bribe and once more in 2016 following sexual misconduct. Both of these instances were bipartisan, rather than the partisan expulsion currently occurring. This pattern of expulsion is consistent with representatives around the country. However, this expulsion is clearly politically motivated and an attempt by GOP lawmakers to block action on gun legislation. As the San Bernardino Sun puts it: “Most state legislatures possess the power to expel members, but it is generally reserved as a punishment for lawmakers accused of serious misconduct, not used as a weapon against political opponents”. 

Twoof the lawmakers, Justin Jones (72-25)  and Justin J. Pearson (69-26) expelled in a vote by the Republican majority; Johnson’s vote failed. Following the announcement to expel Pearson, protestors shouted “shame!!” to the voting lawmakers. It is critical to note that both Justin Jones and Justin J. Pierson are Black and Gloria Johnson is white. It is no question that the success of these expulsions was racially motivated and it is completely disgraceful to what we consider to be an American “democracy”, a fact that Johnson herself recognizes. These three lawmakers were simply advocating for the communities that voted them into their positions and this is clearly demonstrated by the hundreds of protestors who came to support the legislators and use their voice.  Thankfully,  Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Pearson have been reappointed to their positions and are again a part of the legislature. 

As Rep. Pearson states they “broke 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” and they were acting as a result of “the erosion of democracy”. Rep. Johnson stated, “I did it for the kids in my district, for the kids in my state, for the kids in this community”. When Rep. Jones was given an opportunity to defend their actions, he denounced their actions as lawmakers stating, “We called for you to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy”. And what has the Tennessee House of Representatives also been up to besides taking disturbingly anti-democratic actions? Passing laws on toughening school security and requirements for annual drills. An absolute disgrace to democracy and an insult to the thousands of gun violence survivors in this country, who are consistently ignored by lawmakers who use their power to appease the NRA rather than protecting children. The issue is not schools- the issue is guns. Jones called out their hypocrisy stating “At no point was there violence. At no point did we encourage violence. In fact, what we were doing was calling for the end of gun violence that is terrorizing our children day after day after day”. These lawmakers were quite literally advocating for nonviolence, yet they were accused of creating a “mutiny”.  Neha Patel, co-director of the State Innovation Exchange, describes the events as “just another anti-democratic effort to silence the American people for speaking out against the devastating consequences of gun violence”.


 It is frightening for our future that in a House with 99 seats, only 3 representatives were brave enough to stand with their people and to let them know they are heard. The House is attempting to silence these lawmakers and the cause they stand for. But the country is watching and witnessing this blatant misuse of political power and its terrifying implications.








https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2023/04/06/tennessee-expulsion-amid-protests-house-gop-expel-lawmakers/70085057007/ https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/tennessee-gop-expels-3-democratic-state-lawmakers-gun-protests-rcna78531