Lawmakers in the GOP-led Tennessee State House voted Monday evening to silence Rep. Justin Jones (D), prohibiting him from speaking and debating for the remainder of the session.
Prior to his silencing, Jones had been criticizing legislation that would have allowed more law enforcement officers in schools, and he had started listing other resources that he believes the state should be providing.
In a video message outside the state capitol building, Jones said that other Democrats walked out with him in protest after House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) “decided to abuse his gavel.”
“He said it was because of speaking off-topic,” Jones elaborated. “So what we’re seeing is this mis-application, this abuse of rules under the leadership of Speaker Cameron Sexton. Members of the public were taken out of the gallery. I was told I was going to be silent. Our caucus walked out in solidarity because what’s happening is not democratic, it is authoritarianism. It’s very troubling what we’re witnessing here.”
Jones is one of the so-called “Tennessee Three,” dubbed so for facing disciplinary action amid gun control protests in the state House chamber following a mass shooting in March at The Covenant School in Nashville where three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed.
He and Rep. Justin Pearson were ousted from their state House seats amid the protests. Along with their fellow Democrat Rep. Gloria Johnson, they were accused of breaking House rules by calling for gun reform. The two ousted Representatives are Black while Johnson, who survived an expulsion vote, is white. Both of the ousted lawmakers have since won reelection.
The lawmakers’ call for stricter gun laws came as the state House was 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.
When the GOP supermajority in the state legislature ended the legislative session early without doing anything to make Tennesseans safer from gun violence, Gov. Bill Lee (R) announced that he would be hauling them back in August to try again to pass legislation such as the red flag law he proposed and stronger background checks.
Instead, in the special session the House has managed to approve a new set of rules that carried harsh penalties for lawmakers deemed too disruptive or distracting, along with banning visitors from holding up signs.
Yesterday, a Tennessee judge ruled against the state House sign ban in a First Amendment lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Tennessee after three members of the pubic were forced to leave a subcommittee hearing for silently holding up 8.5 x 11 pieces of paper with their opinions written on them.
The Chancery Court judge ruled the same evening Jones was silenced, and his fellow Democrats walked out of the chamber.
Panning his phone’s camera to show state troopers outside the capitol building, Jones stated, “This does not look like a democratic body anymore. It is very troubling, the trajectory that we’re on. And really what [Sexton] was trying to do was silence by voting no confidence, but what he does not know is that he’s only guaranteed that more people will show up because it shows how fragile his power is. His attacks on democracy, his attacks on dissent, will not go unchallenged, and so we’ll continue to resist.”