Tennessee Legislators Expel 2 Democrats Over Gun Protest

Third lawmaker keeps her seat by a single vote
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 6, 2023 7:17 PM CDT
Tennessee Republicans Kick 2 Democrats Out of Legislature
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, hugs Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, on the floor of the House chamber after a resolution to expel Johnson from the legislature failed Thursday.   (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

In an extraordinary act of political retaliation, Tennessee Republicans on Thursday expelled two Democratic lawmakers from the state Legislature for their role in a protest that called for more gun control in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting in Nashville. The House, where Republicans have a supermajority, voted to expel Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones. A vote to remove Rep. Gloria Johnson failed by a single vote, the AP reports. The chamber has used the punishment only a handful times since the Civil War. Most state legislatures possess the power to expel members, but it is generally reserved for lawmakers accused of serious misconduct, not used as a weapon against political opponents. In a tweet, President Biden called the expulsions "shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent."

Republicans said the punishment was in response to the Democrats' behavior last week as hundreds of protesters packed the Capitol to call for passage of gun-control measures. While demonstrators filled galleries, the three Democrats approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant. The protest unfolded days after the shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school where six people were killed, including three 9-year-old children. "We are losing our democracy. This is not normal. This is not OK," Pearson told reporters before the vote. He said the three "broke a House rule because we're 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 in our communities."

Johnson, a retired teacher, said her concern about school shootings was personal, recalling a day in 2008 when students came running toward her out of a cafeteria because a student had just been shot and killed there. "The trauma on those faces, you will never, ever forget. I don't want to forget it," she said. Thousands of people went to the Capitol on Thursday to support the Democrats, cheering and chanting outside the House chamber so loudly that the noise drowned out the proceedings. The trio held hands as they walked onto the House floor, and Pearson raised his fist to the crowd during the Pledge of Allegiance. Offered a chance to defend himself before the vote, Jones said the GOP responded to the shooting with a different kind of attack. "We called for you all to ban assault weapons, and you respond with an assault on democracy," he said. (More Tennessee stories.)

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