Speed Reads

The Tennessee Three

Tennessee House GOP moves to expel 3 Democrats over 'disorderly' gun reform protest

The Tennessee House descended into chaos Monday evening as the Republican-dominated chamber voted 72 to 23, along party lines, to approve expedited expulsion proceedings for three Democratic lawmakers who had broken House rules to call for gun reform last week, after the murder of six people at Nashville's Covenant School. The final vote on whether to expel Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson will be held Thursday. 

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R) — who had called Thursday's floor protest an "insurrection" — ordered state troopers to clear the galleries of visitors and the media after Monday's vote, as protesters began chanting. Scuffles broke out on the House floor. 

The resolution to expel the Democrats accuses them of "disorderly behavior" and knowingly bringing "disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions." The state House has only expelled two lawmakers since the Civil War, The Tennessean reports: Rep. Jeremy Durham (R) was booted in 2016 for alleged sexual misconduct, and Rep. Robert Fisher (R) was expelled in 1980 for soliciting a $1,000 bribe. 

Johnson said if she and the other two Democrats are expelled, she will consider a lawsuit, arguing that their protest was constitutionally protected speech. She also said the punishment was extreme, given recent scandals. "We had a child molester on the floor for years, they helped him get reelected and did nothing to expel him," Johnson said. "We've had members pee in each other's chairs. We've had members illegally prescribe drugs to their cousin-mistress, and nothing happened. But talk on the floor without permission, and you'll get expelled."

Protesters calling for stricter gun regulation — not the loosening of gun laws being considered — had gathered at the Capitol on Thursday, many of them teenagers. Jones, Johnson, and Pearson had approached the House well with a bullhorn to join protesters in the gallery in their "gun reform now!" chants, prompting Sexton to shut down the chamber for an hour. The three lawmakers were subsequently stripped of their committee assignments and access to their office building and the parking garage.

Sexton said the three lawmakers improperly tried "to hold up the people's business" and "actually thought that they would be arrested. And so they decided that them being a victim was more important than focusing on the six victims from [March 27]. And that's appalling."

Nashville students walked out of class on Monday and gathered at the Capitol to call for gun control.