The Republican-controlled Tennessee House voted Thursday to expel state Rep. Justin Jones (D) and state Rep. Justin Pearson (D), after they interrupted legislative proceedings to protest gun violence in the wake of the Covenant School shooting.
The motion to expel a third Democratic lawmaker, state Rep. Gloria Johnson, failed, by one vote. Special elections will now have to be held to fill the seats of Jones and Pearson, who are allowed to run again in those elections.
On March 27, three 9-year-old students and three staff members were killed in a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. Since then, parents, teachers, and students have marched to the Tennessee Capitol, demanding that lawmakers pass stricter gun laws. On March 30, Johnson, Jones, and Pearson chanted "No action, no peace" from the House floor, and in response, three Republican lawmakers — state Reps. Andrew Farmer, Gino Bulso, and Bud Hulsey — filed resolutions to expel the Democrats, accusing them of engaging in "disorderly behavior" that brought "disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions."
Tennessee's House had previously expelled only two other lawmakers since the Civil War, both on near-unanimous bipartisan votes. "In General Assembly history, a partisan expulsion vote like Thursday's is unusual, and an expulsion push over a decorum breach is unprecedented," The Tennessean reports.
Before the vote to expel him, Jones said that during the demonstration, "at no point was there violence. At no point did we encourage violence. In fact, what we were doing was calling for the end of gun violence that is terrorizing our children day after day."
Jones and Pearson are both Black, and Johnson is white. The vote to expel Jones came first, followed by the vote on Johnson, and when asked by reporters why she thought her outcome was different from his, she responded, "It might have to do with the color of our skin." Pearson agreed, telling reporters: "You cannot ignore the racial dynamic of what happened today. Two young Black lawmakers get expelled and the one white woman does not? That's a statement in and of itself."
President Biden tweeted about the expulsion votes, saying, "Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting. And what are GOP officials focused on? Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action. It's shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent."