Justin Jones, one of the two Black Democratic Lawmakers expelled by GOP lawmakers for participating in a protest against gun violence, was sworn back into office Monday after the Nashville Metro Council unanimously voted to reinstate him.
The 36-0 vote by the local officials to give state Rep. Justin Jones, 27, his seat back comes just four days after the Tennessee Republicans stripped Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis of their seats. The Shelby County Commission is expected to vote on whether to reinstate Pearson on Wednesday, Washington Post reports.
Their expulsions were Republican state leaders’ latest attempt to openly stifle dissent in a majority-Republican statehouse. The move once again turned a spotlight on the nation’s divisions over gun control, race, and freedom of speech.
“This afternoon’s vote is unprecedented, but so was the action taken to expel members of the legislature,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in the council’s chamber minutes before the vote.
“Voters in District 52 elected Justin Jones to be their voice in the statehouse, and that voice was taken away this past week. So, let’s give them their voice back,” he continued, calling for the Metro Council to vote unanimously in favor of reinstating Justin Jones back to office.
After Monday’s vote, which took less than 20 minutes, Jones, in a raised fist in the air, walked arm-in-arm with fellow Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson into the House of Chamber. The pair were met with thunderous applause and cheers.
“I want to welcome the people back to the people’s house,” Justin Jones said as he addressed the House. “I’m hopeful for the days ahead for Tennessee, not because of the actions of this body, but because of the actions of the people out there, the thousands gathered outside this chamber right now, who are calling for something better.
“We will continue to be your voice here,” he added. “And no expulsion, no attempt to silence us will stop us, but it will only galvanize and strengthen our movement. And we will continue to show up in the people’s House.”
Moments later, on the steps of the capital, Justin Jones was joined by Pearson and spoke to the crowd through a bullhorn. “This is the rebirth and resurrection of a movement in Tennessee, not just today but in the days ahead. The birth of the new South, because right here in Nashville, we’ve got movements led by young people that transformed this nation,” Jones said.
Justin Pearson, who didn’t address the pending vote on his seat, said Nashville’s decision was a step In the right direction for having a pluralistic, multiracial, multiethnic, and multi-economic democracy.
Republican leaders said the lawmakers who quickly became known as the – Tennessee Three – Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, who were ousted, and state Rep. Gloria Johnson, who was not, had violated the House rules during the March 30 protest.
The three led supporters in chants calling for gun control measures after the deadly March 27 shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, killing six people, including three 9-year-olds.
Lawmakers speculated that Gloria Jonhson was spared the same fate as Jones and Pearson because she did not address the crown with a bullhorn (which violates the body’s rules of decorum), among other reasons. But Johnson, who is White, said she was not ousted because she is a “60-year-old White woman and they are two young Black men.”
“I think our presence as young Black voices for our constituencies, people who will not bow down, those who will not be conformed, that’s what put a target on us the day we walked in the Tennessee General Assembly,” Jones informed NBC Sunday.
“I mean, this is the first time in Tennessee history we had a completely partisan expulsion by predominantly White caucus — all but one member of their caucus is white out of 75 members — and we are the two youngest Black lawmakers in Tennessee.”
Jones and Pearson, if also reinstated, will still have to run for reelection.
Following the state rules of expulsion, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, must sign what’s known as a writ of election to set dates for a future special election. That means he must schedule a primary for Justin Jones’ and Justin Pearson’s seats within 60 days and a general election within 107 days.
Expulsions from the Legislature have generally been reserved as a punishment for the most serious offenses – with only a handful of such instances since the Civil War – not used as a weapon against political opponents.