Justin Jones Is Back Where He Belongs: The Statehouse
The Nashville Metro Council reinstated Rep. Justin Jones to his position in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Monday — just days after Republicans in the chamber voted to expel him and fellow lawmaker Justin Pearson. The pair were removed from office on Thursday by the legislature GOP supermajority as punishment for participating in a gun control protest on the House floor.
Reps. Jones, Pearson, and Gloria Johnson (who survived a vote for her own removal by a single vote) participated in a protest calling for increased gun control measures days after a mass shooting in Nashville. In the shooting, which took place at a Christian elementary school, three 9-year-old students and three adult staffers were killed.
The trio, which has come to be known as the “Tennessee Three” led chants on the House floor, and approached the podium to deliver remarks without being recognized by the chair, a violation of the house rules typically punished by an official reprimand — not expulsion from office.
The council suspended rules that would require them to wait four weeks before moving to reinstate Jones, and approved his return to office in an unanimous vote, he was sworn in on the Capitol steps shortly after. Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton had previously indicated he would allow the ejected members to be seated should their city commissions reappoint them.
Speaking to the crowd gathered outside of the council’s office building, Jones addressed Sexton’s role in his expulsion: “Your attack on Democracy — thank you, because it’s galvanized a nationwide movement.”
Following the vote, Jones himself led a march back to the state Capitol, where lawmakers convened for an evening session on Monday. Protesters have maintained a vocal presence in and around the building since the shooting and folded their support for the embattled lawmakers’ into their continued calls for gun control.
The trio concurs that Johnson, who is white, was likely spared the ax due to her race.
“You cannot ignore the racial dynamic of what happened today,” Pearson told reporters on Thursday. “Two young Black lawmakers get expelled and the one white woman does not? That is a statement in and of itself.”
The expulsion of Jones and Pearson was met with widespread condemnation.
President Joe Biden expressed his outrage on behalf of the Tennessee Three in a tweet Thursday night. “Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action. It’s shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” the president wrote.
“This is what justice looks like. This is what democracy looks like” Pearson told reporters following the vote to reinstate Jones. While members of the Shelby County Commission have indicated their support for reinstating Pearson, the commission is already facing threats from state lawmakers warning that aid to Pearson may result in funding cuts. The Memphis lawmaker has already announced his re-election campaign and has vowed to continue fighting for gun rights regardless of whether or not he holds office.