The Tennessee Three: punishment or prejudice


photo credits: Politico News

On Mar. 30, three Tennessee House Representatives—Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson—were promptly expelled from their seats following their participation in a peaceful protest against gun violence at the state capitol.  

“I believe that politicians protesting for something they strongly believe in is simply a way to express the beliefs of the people they serve. Obviously, I do not believe in violent protesting or urging others to become violent, but I do believe the freedom of speech was made a right for a reason, and it should not be taken away simply because people disagree with it,” Lyla Dennis, senior, said.  

Prior to the representatives’ removal, many protestors rallied at the state capitol to call for stricter gun control. The outcry came immediately after a school shooting at The Covenant, a Presbyterian school, in which three children and three adults lost their lives. Citizens marched outside of the capital, entered the hallway, and later occupied the House and Senate Chambers. They chanted and pumped their fists, held protest signs, and joined hands. Jones, Pearson, and Johnson appeared to stop the protests before joining in and leading the proceedings themselves.  

“This is not about expelling us as individuals. This is your attempt to expel the voices of the people from the people’s house. It will not be successful,” Jones said 

The Republican party, which holds the House’s majority, voted to expel the three Tennessee lawmakers due to what they deemed disorderly conduct. Jones, 27, was expelled after a vote of 72-25. Pearson, 28, was expelled after a vote of 69-26. Johnson was able to maintain her position as legislature, yet her duties were confiscated. Johnson claimed that the only reason she was able to keep her seat was because she is a 60-year-old, White woman, while both Jones and Pearson are young, Black men.  

“Unprecedented events yield unprecedented consequences. Unfortunately, we were obligated to levy unprecedented consequences on those members today. Our focus continues to be on the six innocent lives that were brutally taken last week at the Covenant School, not those who have chosen to make this tragedy about themselves,” Tennessee House Republicans said 

The State lawmakers’ expulsion is extremely rare, and only eight lawmakers from Tennesse have ever been dismissed from their positions. The event’s rarity and lack of solid reasoning caused significant outcry from Democrats across the nation; even President Biden issued a statement in which he deemed the dismissals “undemocratic.” Additionally, former President Obama tweeted his disapproval of the situation, while House Republicans maintained that it was the right move. Although the legislators were supposed to be replaced on Apr. 10, the Metro Council of Nashville held a meeting in which they unanimously voted to reinstate Jones. Shortly after, a county commissioner requested a meeting that resulted in Pearson’s reinstatement. 

“In the matter of the Tennessee lawmakers, I have heard the argument from conservatives that they were expelled due to supporting violence against the state legislative building; but, if you look at the facts of the case, the members expelled displayed no apparent signs of violence against congressional peers. All they did was participate in a protest in which a ‘bull horn’ was blown to signify an urgency for action,” Jack McKinney, senior, said.  

Despite the lawmakers’ restoration, many continue to express anger and disbelief over the expulsions, claiming that they were an injustice to the country’s democratic principles. Meanwhile, the Republican party stands on the offensive, expressing that they hope Jones and Pearson will return to the House with respect for the legislature.