Representatives in the Republican-led Tennessee House voted Thursday to expel two of three Democratic lawmakers accused of breaking House rules by calling for gun reform a week ago.
Democratic state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both Black, were expelled while Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, survived the vote against her.
Outside the chamber ahead of the votes, Pearson told reporters, “We are losing our democracy to white supremacy. We are losing our democracy to patriarchy. We are losing our democracy to people who want to keep a status quo that is damning to the rest of us.”
Earlier this week, House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) called a floor protest last Thursday by the three Democratic state Representatives an “insurrection.”
The lawmakers were accused of “disorderly behavior” and for knowingly bringing “disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions” last week. Sexton added that the lawmakers had improperly tried to “hold up the people’s business.”
The gathered crowd erupted numerous times this Thursday amid the debates and the votes, as protesters both inside and outside of the state capitol chanted to urge the House members to vote against expulsion and to take action on gun control.
Ahead of the vote that ousted him, Jones said on the floor that the House members’ votes would “do the opposite” of what they intend. “It will galvanize [the people] to see that what is happening in this state requires sustained action,” he said.
Jones added, “I pray that we uphold our oath on this floor because, colleagues, the world is watching.”
Ahead of the vote to expel him, Pearson said, “We’re here today witnessing injustice against the First Amendment. We spoke up for gun control and the end of gun violence.”
Ahead of the vote that spared her expulsion, Johnson—who experienced a school shooting as a teacher in 2008—said, “You’re not silencing my voice. You’re silencing the voice of 70,000 Tennesseans who sent me here, that care deeply about gun violence and Medicaid expansion and public schools. And we are continually silenced on the floor on those issues and more.”
Outside the chamber ahead of Pearson’s vote, Johnson told a reporter that the reason she survived her motion while Jones was expelled “might have to do with the color of our skin.” Hugging Jones, she vowed, “I will keep fighting for you all. I won’t stop.”
The three lawmakers’ call for gun reform last week came just days after a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville where three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed. Their call came as the state House is in fact considering looser gun laws, including allowing people to carry rifles and shotguns in public without a permit, and to allow faculty or school staff members to carry a concealed handgun on school grounds with a permit.
On Wednesday, sparked by the Nashville school shooting, students across the country undertook a nationwide walkout to demand that lawmakers take action on gun reform.
Tennessee has previously only expelled two other lawmakers since the Civil War: Rep. Jeremy Durham (R) in 2016 for alleged sexual misconduct and Rep. Robert Fisher (R) in 1980 for soliciting a bribe.