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US: Tennessee lawmaker expelled over gun protest reinstated

April 11, 2023

Tennessee Representative Justin Jones has been reinstated to the state congress on an interim basis. Jones and another Democrat, both Black, were ousted last week over a gun control protest in the state capital.

From left, expelled Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and expelled Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville raise their fists as they walk across Fisk University campus after hearing Vice President Kamala Harris speak, Friday, April 7, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
Justin Jones, (L), was reinstated days after his expulsion over a gun control protestImage: George Walker IV/AP/picture alliance

A Tennessee city council voted on Monday to bring Democratic Representative Justin Jones back into the state congress days after his expulsion for disrupting a session with a stricter gun control protest.

Local legislatures are allowed to fill vacancies in the state House of Representatives until a special election can be carried out.

Jones and Justin Pearson, both of whom are Black, were expelled in retaliation for their protest calling for stronger gun control in the wake of a school shooting in Nashville.

A motion to oust their white colleague Gloria Johnson, who also protested, failed by one vote.

How was Jones reinstated?

On Monday, the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County voted Jones in as an interim representative, with 36 votes in favor and zero votes against.

Some 600 protesters gathered outside the council to celebrate Monday's vote, with many cheering "welcome home!" at Jones. The Democratic lawmaker then marched back to the statehouse with his colleague Johnson, where he was sworn in on the steps.

"I want to welcome the people back to the people's house," he said inside the House as he took his place during a session.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners is due to convene for a similar vote on Wednesday, which could get Pearson reinstated to his Memphis district. Tennessee Democrats were planning to push on Tuesday for Pearson's reinstatement.

"You might try and silence it. You might try and expel it. But the people's power will not be stopped," Pearson told supporters outside the council chambers. "This is what democracy looks like."

Why were the Democratic lawmakers expelled?

The three Democrats, dubbed the "Tennessee three," led a gun control protest some two weeks ago from the House.

The protests came just days after six people were shot dead at a school in Nashville, one of 146 mass shootings in the US this year alone, according to the monitoring group Gun Violence Archive.

In an extraordinary measure, when lesser punishments such as censure were available, the Republican majority voted to expel Jones and Pearson. They were accused of breaking decorum by leading the protest inside the House.

Republican leadership denied that race was a factor in sparing Johnson from explusion. Instead, some pointed out that she did not use a megaphone to lead chants, whereas Jones and Pearson did.

The expulsions created an uproar nationwide. US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Tennessee on Friday, where she met the two expelled lawmakers.

US President Joe Biden also thanked the duo for "standing up to our democratic values." He described their expulsion as "shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent."

rmt/es (AFP, Reuters)