UPDATE 4/10/23: Nashville’s Metro Council unanimously voted to reinstate Justin Jones to his seat in the Tennessee House after the GOP-led state legislature expelled him and two other colleagues last week.
In response to a mass shooting at a Nashville school that left six people dead, including three 9-year-old children, Democrats Justin Jones, Justin J. Pearson and Gloria Johnson led supporters in chants advocating for gun safety legislation.
When they were not permitted to speak, the three used a bullhorn, which broke Tennessee House of Representatives rules. The demonstration was described as an “insurrection” by the state’s House leadership. The result was that Jones and Pearson, both of whom are Black, were expelled from the Legislature last Thursday.
However, Johnson, a white woman, managed to survive her vote, which she says has to do with her race. When asked “Why were those two expelled and you weren’t?” in an interview with CNN, she responded, “Well, I think it’s pretty clear. I’m a 60-year-old white woman, and they are two young Black men.”
“In listening to the questions, and the way they were questioned, and the way they were talked to… I was talked down to as a woman, mansplained too, but it was completely different from the questioning they got. And this whole idea that […] you have to almost assimilate into this body to be like us,” she added.
In addition, she said that she felt the Jones and Pearson were spoken to in a “demeaning way” and told, “If you’re going to come into this body, you’re going to have to act like this body.”
Pearson and Jones were both serving their first terms in the House, while Johnson is currently serving her fourth.
Last week, a majority of the Metropolitan Council’s 40 members stated they would vote to have Jones return to the Legislature. Vice Mayor Jim Shulman told NBC News that he expected the council to propose suspending the rules to facilitate a vote on a replacement for Jones’ seat during today’s meeting rather than holding a month-long nomination period.
“He’s a duly elected representative of his constituents. They voted him in. They chose him. They want him to speak for them,” Councilmember Zulfat Suara said. “We cannot stop the voices of the masses or what the voters wanted, that would not be good for our democracy. What the state did [Thursday] is that: kill democracy.”
Chairman Mickell Lowery announced Sunday that the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, the body which would choose Pearson’s successor, will meet Wednesday to discuss reappointing Pearson to his seat.
“I believe the expulsion of State Representative Justin Pearson was conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods,” Lowery said in a statement. “I also believe that the ramifications for our great state are still yet to be seen.”
Since their expulsion, Democrats in Washington have rallied behind Jones and Pearson. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Nashville on Friday to meet with the “Tennessee Three,” as the group is known and praised them for “channeling” the voices of their constituents in speaking out against gun violence.
President Joe Biden also called the legislators and invited them to the White House. He had described their removal as “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent.”