Tennessee Republicans voted on Thursday (April 6) to expel two Black Democrats, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, in retaliation for participating in a gun control protest following a tragic mass shooting at a Nashville school. The Associated Press reported a third Democrat, Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white woman, who also faced expulsion, was spared by a one-vote margin.
“Rather than pass laws that will address red flags and banning assault weapons and universal background checks, they passed resolutions to expel their colleagues,” Jones said after the historic vote, according to the news outlet.
“And they think that the issue is over. We’ll see you on Monday.”
During an interview with CNN, Rep. Johnson clarified her belief that her colleagues were expelled due to race, although this has been declined by the Republican lawmakers responsible. The outlet reported the Tennessee House had only expelled two other representatives since the Reconstruction period, recognized as the years directly following the Civil War.
“I am a 60-year-old White woman, and they are two young Black men,” she explained, continuing to detail how her peers were asked questions in a “demeaning way” before the expulsion.
“I think we might have these two young men back very soon,” Johnson said according to CNN. “It is my promise to fight like hell to get both of them back.”
According to The Tennessean, the Tennessee Constitution allows a county governing body to appoint an interim representative in the case of a vacancy, not excluding those expelled from the position. Jones and Pearson can also seek reelection and be reseated in the General Assembly within months.
“Normally, expulsion from a legislature is an extreme sanction that involves indictment and conviction of a crime or a severe ethical violation,” explained Bruce Oppenheimer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, to the outlet. “Even when an ethical violation is incurred, lesser penalties of a reprimand or censure would be assessed in most cases.”
President Joe Biden issued a statement on Thursday calling the expulsions “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” continuing “we’ve continued to see Republican officials across America double down on dangerous bills that make our schools, places of worship, and communities less safe. Our kids continue to pay the price.”
CNN reported Jones and Pearson urged protesters to return to the Capitol when the House returns to session on Monday (April 10).