Expelled Tennessee House Democrat Justin Pearson Reinstated

Two Democrats were expelled by the Republican-led state House for protesting with gun control advocates. They've both been reinstated.

A second Tennessee House Democrat has been reinstated after Republicans expelled him for protesting with gun control advocates.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 Wednesday to reinstate state Rep. Justin Pearson, who days before was expelled by the GOP supermajority for joining protesters ― many of them children ― who chanted in the House chamber in support of gun control following a school shooting that left three kids and three adults dead last month.

Following his reinstatement, a packed crowd inside the County Administration Building erupted in cheers and applause. In a speech following his reinstatement, Pearson said it was time to get back to work.

“You can’t expel our voice, and you sure can’t expel our fight,” he told the crowd.

“Let’s get back to work!” he shouted, to loud cheers.

Pearson and fellow Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones were expelled for protesting on March 30 in the House chamber, which Republican lawmakers called “disorderly behavior” that “brought dishonor to the House of Representatives.” A third lawmaker who joined in protesting for gun control, Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson, was spared expulsion by a single vote.

Pearson and Jones are Black; Johnson is white. Both Jones and Johnson joined Pearson in his march Wednesday to the County Administration Building.

“I’m so glad Memphis did what was right,” Johnson told local station WREG after the vote. “I’m just absolutely thrilled.”

“Justice was done today,” she added.

Democrats Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were expelled from the Tennessee state House for protesting in support of gun restrictions.
Democrats Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were expelled from the Tennessee state House for protesting in support of gun restrictions.
George Walker IV/Associated Press

Pearson represents part of Memphis, which is in Shelby County. Mickell Lowery, chairman of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, said in a statement Sunday that the expulsion of Pearson “was conducted in a hasty manner.”

“The protests at the State Capitol by citizens recently impacted by the senseless deaths of three 9-year-old children and three adults entrusted with their care at their school was understandable given the fact that the gun laws in the State of Tennessee are becoming nearly non-existent,” Lowery said.

“It is equally understandable that the leadership of the State House of Representatives felt a strong message had to be sent to those who transgressed the rules,” Lowery continued. “However, I believe the expulsion of State Representative Justin Pearson was conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods. I also believe that the ramifications for our great State are still yet to be seen.”

Jones, who represents part of Nashville, was voted back into office on Monday by the Nashville Metropolitan Council in a vote of 36-0. Nashville Mayor John Cooper (D) said it was about giving voters their “voice back.”

“Voters in District 52 elected Justin Jones to be their voice at the statehouse, and that voice was taken away this past week,” Cooper said during the meeting to reinstate Jones. “So let’s give them their voice back. I call on this body to vote unanimously, right now, to do just that.”

Along with the two lawmakers being reinstated this week, another surprising victory emerged: On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order to tighten background checks and called on the state legislature to pass a “red flag” law that would make it easier to remove guns from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

During his expulsion hearing, Pearson reminded lawmakers that the U.S. was founded on protest.

“You who celebrate July 4, 1776, pop fireworks and eat hot dogs ― you say to protest is wrong because you spoke out of turn, because you spoke up for people who are marginalized, because you spoke up for kids who won’t ever speak again ... in a country built on people who speak out of turn,” he said.

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