Tennessee Democrat Reinstated to House Seat by Nashville Council After Being Expelled

Tennessee Democrat Reinstated to House Seat by Nashville Council After Being Expelled
Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) delivers remarks on the floor of the House chamber in Nashville, Tenn., on April 6, 2023. (George Walker IV/AP Photo)
Chase Smith
Nashville’s Metro Council voted unanimously on April 10 to reinstate Democrat Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones to the office he was expelled from last week.

Jones was sworn in on the steps of the State Capitol shortly after the Metro Council meeting a few blocks away. He was then escorted into the Capitol building, where the House gaveled into session just a half hour earlier.

Jones, 27, was one of the two black Democratic lawmakers expelled by the Republican-controlled Tennessee General Assembly over their participation in a gun control protest on the House floor in the days that followed a deadly school shooting.

The nomination came from Council member Delishia Porterfield, who said she resides in Jones’s district. She gave a short speech, then the council, in a 36-0 vote, reinstated Jones.

“On Aug. 4 [2022], Rep. Justin Jones earned the most votes in our Democratic primary, allowing him to advance and win the general election on Nov. 8,” she said. “The people made a choice, and it was the right choice. On Thursday, April 6, we witnessed a miscarriage of justice and an egregious assault on our democracy which resulted in over 70,000 Davidson County voters–our voters–being silenced when our representative was expelled.”

Porterfield went on to speak about the state’s other “attempts to silence the people” of Nashville.

She said the Metro Attorney alerted the council they received an injunction by a state court to halt the state legislature’s plan to limit the 40-member council and others around the state to a maximum of 20 members in half under the Metro Council Reduction Act.

Jones spoke prior to the meeting at a rally outside the Metropolitan City Hall alongside supporters.

“When they expelled us, they had no idea that this was going to happen,“ he said at the rally before the vote. ”They just thought they’d go along as they always do—that they’d abuse their power and there would be no resistance. That they would do something unconstitutional and we would just have to wait to seek accountability. There comes a time when time itself is ready for itself—and that time has come to Nashville. That time has come to Tennessee.”

Jones added, “Speaker Cameron Sexton, you can either move on over or we’ll move on over you—because we’re moving on.”

Jones, Pearson Were Expelled on April 6

The debate ahead of the vote to expel Jones, and fellow Democrats Rep. Justin Pearson and Rep. Gloria Johnson, lasted for hours as lawmakers from each side of the aisle spoke passionately, shouted, yelled, and expressed emotion about the historic move to remove the members. Johnson was spared expulsion by a one-vote margin.

Jones, in his closing remarks, urged his colleagues to vote against his expulsion by telling them “the world is watching.”

“When I walked up to this well last Thursday, I was thinking about the thousands of students who were outside demanding that we do something. In fact, many of their signs said ‘do something,’” Jones said in his closing plea. “That was their only ask of us is to respond to their grief, to respond to a traumatized community. But in response to that, the first action of this body is to expel members for calling for common sense gun legislation.”

Jones went on to claim that his Republican colleagues were committing an “assault on democracy” and that this day will “be a dark day for Tennessee because it will signal to the nation that there is no democracy in Tennessee.”

(L–R) State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson arrive at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., on April 7, 2023. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)
(L–R) State Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson arrive at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., on April 7, 2023. (Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean via AP)

Resolutions to expel the members were introduced on April 3 after the lawmakers led protesters on the House floor with a bullhorn in chants calling for tighter restrictions on gun rights, just a week after the deadly Covenant School shooting in Nashville.

The move to expel state lawmakers is particularly rare in Tennessee, where only two other members had been expelled from the chamber since the Civil War. Those votes, however, were largely bipartisan, in stark contrast to the expulsion of two Democrats on party-line tallies.

Pearson can also be reappointed to his seat by local representatives in Memphis. The 13-member Shelby County Commission announced they will vote on reappointing Pearson on Wednesday. City officials have already signaled they also plan to reinstate Pearson to his seat.

Jones—as well the other expelled representative, if reappointed this week—will serve in the seat until a special election is held later this year.

Tennessee’s constitution calls for special elections in the event of vacancies if there is more than 12 months until the next general election. It is up to the governor to call for the special election and state law provides it must be scheduled within 55 to 60 days and a general election to fill the seat must be held within 100 to 107 days.

Governor Bill Lee, a Republican, has not yet announced plans for the special election.

Update: This article has been updated with the process for reappointing Pearson.
Chase is an award-winning journalist. He covers national news for The Epoch Times and is based out of Tennessee. For news tips, send Chase an email at [email protected] or connect with him on X.
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