How unprecedented is the Tennessee House’s ejection of Justin Jones, Justin Pearson?

On April 6, 2023, the Tennessee House of Representatives called a Statute of 1796 Allow state officials to remove, by a two-thirds majority, any member who “knowingly and intentionally brings[s] Disorder and Dishonor” for the House of Representatives. The targets: Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, Justin Jones of Nashville, and Justin Pearson of Memphis.

The Three Representatives, dubbed the Tennessee Three in media reports, had attended a protest in the House of Representatives against gun control inaction following mass killings at Nashville’s Covenant School, the Washington Post reported. A former student shot and killed three teenagers and three adults on March 27, 2023 before authorities killed the suspect. According to the post:

During the [gun control] Protesting, Jones, Johnson and Pearson went to the front of the chamber to join the chants that echoed from the gallery. There were protesters of all ages – including children “from strollers to high school,” according to Johnson – who filled the gallery, packed the rotunda and swarmed outside the building.

Jones, holding a sign that read “Protect Children, No Guns,” led the crowd onto the chamber’s balcony and shouted, “No action, no peace!” into a megaphone. Afterwards, Pearson spoke through the bullhorn about gun violence, singing, “Enough is enough.”

At the end of a tumultuous gathering that drew hundreds of protesters, two of the three representatives – Jones and Pearson – had been expelled.

Johnson, the only white member of the three, survived their vote as reported from the post:

In a historic act of partisan retaliation, the chamber voted 72-25 to overthrow Rep. Justin Jones (D), a 27-year-old community organizer elected in November to represent part of Nashville, and 69-26 for expelling Rep. Justin Pearson (D) of Memphis. Republicans did not have enough votes to unseat Representative Gloria Johnson (D), a former Knoxville teacher who lost a student to gun violence. […]

After the vote that allowed Johnson to stay in the House of Representatives, reporters questioned why she thought she was spared. Johnson, who is white, replied, “It could have to do with our skin color.” Jones is of black and Filipino descent, and Pearson is black.

Such actions are extremely rare, so a Report 2019 by the Tennessee Attorney General. There have been three cases in which members of the State House have been expelled, and this has never happened in the Tennessee Senate:

The Tennessee House of Representatives has only used its power of expulsion three times[…] First, during the Extraordinary Session of 1866, the House expelled six members “for contempt of the authority of this House.” […]

Second, in 1980, the House of Representatives expelled Representative Robert Fisher after he was found guilty of accepting bribes while in office. […]

Third, in 2016, after the House of Representatives conducted an inquiry into certain allegations against Rep. Jeremy Durham, it disfellowshipped him for “messy conduct.”

State Assemblyman Jeremy Durham, after to a 2016 attorney general’s report covered by the Tennessean, “involved in inappropriate sexual conduct with 22 women, including sexual harassment.”

The 1866 expulsions targeted six officials who were trying to “prevent the ratification of the 14th Amendment, which gave citizenship to formerly enslaved people.” after to the Huffington Post:

Jones, an activist and community organizer, who was elected to office in 2020 and is among the youngest members of the House of Representatives, told reporters the vote was “a very dangerous precedent for the nation.” He called on the nation to hold members of the House of Representatives accountable:

A week after a mass shooting it is so outrageous that the first response from this body is to deport me rather than pass the sane gun laws that we have been calling for. Our community is mourning, Nashville is mourning, and this is their response to the mourning. […] The nation needs to know and hold accountable the members of this chamber. I will continue to stand by the people.

Pearson, the second youngest member of the house, the was elected in a special election in January 2023, said in his closing statements before the vote to evict him that “we are still here and we will never give up”.

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