Two Black Tennessee Lawmakers Expelled for Involvement in Gun Violence Protests; One White Legislator Survived Vote of Expulsion 

By Ichabod – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

UPDATE: Rep. Justin Jones was reinstated to his seat by his county Monday, and Rep. Justin Pearson is expected to be reinstated within this next week.

By Julie McCaffrey

NASHVILLE, TN – In an unprecedented vote Thursday, two Tennessee legislators, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson, were expelled from the state House for involvement in protests against gun violence, according to NBC.

Both legislators were Black Democrats, and a white Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, just narrowly avoided expulsion.

These individuals were referred to as the “Tennessee Three” by thousands of protesters at the House.

Over the chanting of the protestors, multiple news agencies reported the expulsion proceedings began Thursday afternoon. Rep. Jones was expelled first, with a vote of 72-25. The vote to expel Rep. Johnson failed to meet the two-thirds majority criteria, with a vote of 65-30. Lastly, Rep. Pearson was expelled with a 69-26 vote.

This follows a school shooting that claimed the lives of six people: three adults and three nine-year-old children. In the days since, hundreds of students and Tennessee natives have flooded the state House, demanding gun reform.

According to NBC, the legislators were accused of bringing “disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives” during the protests last week when they allegedly engaged in “disorderly behavior” using a bullhorn, which is in violation to the rules of the House chamber. The legislators also gathered on the House floor without being recognized to speak.

In the days leading up to their demonstration, Rep. Jones stated that “our mics were cut off throughout the week whenever we were trying to bring up the issue of gun violence,” according to CNN affiliate WSMV.

Rep. Lowell Russell released a statement condemning the actions of the Tennessee Three, and supporting the expulsion of Rep. Jones and Rep. Pearson.

Russell said the legislators “chose to make that day [March 30] about themselves instead of working with other legislators to be effective in their intent,” presumably referring to the legislators’ ability to file bills to address concerns they have.

The Tennessee GOP released the following statement in regard to the expulsion vote: “Nashville. Tennessee House Republicans decided to uphold the rule of law and remove 2 Democrat State Representatives that disrupted and protested the legislative process on March 30th, 2023.

“Their adolescence and immature behavior brought dishonor to the Tennessee General Assembly as they admitted to knowingly breaking the rules. Actions have consequences, and we applaud House Republicans for having the conviction to protect the rules, the laws, and the prestige of the State of Tennessee.”

House leaders called the trio’s actions “an insurrection.” Rep. Gino Bulso stated that “they tried to shred our constitution with a bullhorn.”

All three legislators have similar reasons for their participation, which largely concerned standing in solidarity with the students protesting.

Rep. Jones stated that his participation in the protests amounted to “standing for those young people … many of whom can’t even vote yet but all of whom are terrified by the continued trend of mass shootings plaguing our state and plaguing this nation.” 

Rep. Johnson said she protested because she felt she had to “raise the voice of the people in my district,” further adding she “did what [she] felt those folks wanted me to do.

She continues: “I did it for the kids in my district, for the kids in my state, for the kids in this community.”

“We broke a House rule because we were fighting for kids who are dying from gun violence and people in our communities who want to see an end to the proliferation of weaponry,” added Rep. Pearson.

In regard to the expulsions, the members of the Tennessee Three are worried about what this might mean for democracy.

Speaking to MSNBC, Rep. Jones said, “This is very unprecedented” and “what the nation is seeing is that we don’t have democracy in Tennessee,” and promised to continue the fight against gun violence. He added “this should sound the alarm across the nation, that we are heading into very dangerous territory.”

Regarding the expulsion of her fellow legislators, Rep. Johnson, who is white, stated “America should be worried,” and added that the reason for the failed motion to expel her (but the two Black lawmakers were expelled) “might have to do with the color of my skin,” according to The Tennessean.

The actions of the Tennessee House of Representatives have been heavily criticized by current and former politicians.

President Biden called the actions “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent” in a tweet April 6. Former President Barack Obama tweeted a similar statement, stating that the lawmakers’ actions are “the latest example of a broader erosion of civility and democratic norms.”

According to the New York Post, the Tennessee Three have been invited to the White House by President Biden, following Vice President Harris’ trip to Nashville to visit the lawmakers.

It is unclear whether the Tennessee House of Representatives had made any attempt to prevent another school shooting from occurring, or introduce any gun control legislation.

About The Author

Julie is a third year at UC Davis majoring in Communications and Psychology with a minor in Philosophy. She hopes to advocate for women's reproductive rights and make the justice system fairer for sexual assault survivors.

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1 Comment

  1. Walter Shwe

    This week’s events are just the latest instance of Republicans seeking to limit democracy. More than 330 bills in state houses across America are designed to restrict voting rights. These bills are rooted in a white nationalism that rejects the principle of equal access to the civic processes and institutions that are the bedrock of American democracy. In Jackson, Mississippi, a Republican-led state legislature has sought to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters by carving out a space where they are free to appoint judges themselves, subverting the will of tens of thousands of a mostly Black electorate. In Missouri, the majority white Republican Legislature is trying to put St. Louis’ police department under state control.

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