During a highly charged session marked by tension and emotional exchanges, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in Tennessee voted to expel two Democratic lawmakers who had led a gun reform protest in the chamber, while failing to oust a third representative. The expelled lawmakers are Black, while the one who survived the vote is White. The session, which lasted for seven hours, was punctuated by boos, chants, and cheers from onlookers in the gallery.
The vote on rule violations for Rep. Justin Jones resulted in a 72-25 split along party lines, while the vote in Rep. Justin Pearson’s case was 69-26. Rep. Gloria Johnson survived the vote with a 65-30 count, falling just short of the required two-thirds majority for expulsion.
All about the expulsions
Last Thursday, three lawmakers led a protest on the House floor in Tennessee, calling on lawmakers to take action on gun violence following the deadly shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. The lawmakers, who were not recognised, used a bullhorn to address their colleagues and the protesters in the gallery, leading to their removal from committee assignments.
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In resolutions passed by the House, the lawmakers were accused of intentionally disrupting the proceedings of the House Representatives and bringing disorder and dishonour to the House.
The resolutions were passed under Article II, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution, which empowers the House to punish its members for disorderly behavior and expel them with the concurrence of two-thirds of its members.
Expelled Legislator Jones Remains Defiant
During the debate prior to the vote on his expulsion, Jones maintained his defiance and used his time in the well to renew his call for firearms legislation. He declared, “There comes a time where people get sick and tired of being sick and tired. What we did was act in our responsibility as legislators to serve and give voice to the grievances of people who have been silenced.” In response to the charge that he brought dishonour to the House, Jones retorted, “How can you bring dishonour to an already dishonourable house?”
After his expulsion, Jones was not sure what his next steps would be. He stated to reporters that he would continue to show up to the Capitol with the young people he has been working with, regardless of whether he was inside the chamber or outside.
Pearson expressed his hope to be re-appointed to serve in the state legislature by the Shelby County Commissioners. He told reporters that many of them were upset about the anti-democratic behavior of the White supremacist-led state legislature.
Protests broke out in the capitol
The crowd in the Capitol gallery reacted with anger when Jones and Pearson were expelled, and they raised their fists and booed. As a vote to recess was taken, the chants of “Shame on you” from the assembled crowds could be heard. However, cheers filled the Capitol when the vote to expel Johnson failed.
Nashville Mayor John Cooper tweeted Thursday night that Jones and Pearson’s districts were “disenfranchised today.” He expressed his pride that the Metro Council was meeting on Monday to fill the vacancy left in Nashville by the expulsion vote and stated his belief that they would send Jones right back to continue serving his constituents.
Is this a common scenario to expel lawmakers?
The process of expelling a lawmaker from the Tennessee House of Representatives is rare and has only occurred twice in the past 157 years. A two-thirds vote is required for a lawmaker to be expelled, which was the case for a representative in 1980 found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office, and in 2016, when another was expelled over allegations of sexual harassment.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton expressed that peaceful protesters have always been welcomed to the capitol to have their voices heard on any issue, but the actions of the Democratic lawmakers detracted from that process. Sexton further stated that the actions of the three members took away from the voices of the protestors and the focus on the victims who lost their lives, and their families. Sexton emphasized that they cannot allow the actions of the three members to distract them from protecting children and that it will require talking about all solutions to get through this together.
During the discussion on Thursday, Democratic Representative Joe Towns labeled the move to expel as a “nuclear option” and stated that it should not be used for fighting for what many of the citizens want to happen. However, some believe that the vote to expel Johnson, Jones, and Pearson was a distraction from the real issue, which is keeping children safe.
Colour of skin in judgement!
The expulsions took place against the backdrop of widespread protests by citizens who were unhappy with the state’s inaction on gun violence reform following a deadly mass shooting at a Nashville school. This was the third time in over 160 years that the state House has voted to expel a member.
During the debate over his expulsion, Jones criticised the House for not banning assault weapons and accused them of assaulting democracy. After surviving the vote, Johnson was asked why there was a difference in the outcome for her and Jones, and she suggested that it might have to do with the colour of their skin.
Is this bias a sign of the drowning of democracy?
The expulsion of Democratic lawmakers has raised concerns about the state of democracy in the US. The expulsion also led to accusations of racial bias as the expelled lawmakers were Black while the one who survived the vote was White.
Even, some lawmakers have suggested that White supremacy and patriarchy are eroding democracy, while others have expressed frustration that the House is spending too much time on expulsion rather than urgent issues. Considering the overall fact, now it is becoming a question: Has the role of democracy in US policy and decision-making devolved this much to even judging a rule by the race of people and prioritization criteria?