Republican members of the Tennessee General Assembly are seeking to expel three Democratic legislators for leading pro-gun reform protest chants on the Tennessee House Floor — one week after six people were killed in a school shooting in Nashville, which led to widespread protest.
Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville, Gloria Johnson of Knoxville and Justin Pearson of Memphis have each been named in a trio of resolutions calling for their expulsion from the state legislative body for engaging in “disorderly and disruptive conduct” on the House floor.
“Such disorderly behavior…reflects adversely upon the integrity and dignity of the House of Representatives of the State of Tennessee, places a cloud upon the action of this Honorable Body, and is inconsistent with the duty of a member of this Body,” reads identical language in each expulsion resolution.
Jones, Johnson and Pearson, using a bullhorn, joined to offer chants of “gun reform now” in the House chamber well last Thursday, as members of the public called down from the gallery, demanding legislators to “do your job[s],” Knox News reported. The protests came just days after six people — three nine-year-old children and three adult staff members — were killed in a shooting at a Nashville school.
"What is not okay is for members to try to take over the House and start something inside this chamber. That is never okay, that is not what being a member of the General Assembly is," Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican, said. "We will handle that in due course in the coming days or weeks as we move forward."
In a radio interview shortly after the protests and on-floor disruption, Sexton said that the legislators were trying to “incite riots of violence” and said that what they did that day was “equivalent, maybe worse, depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the Capitol,” he said. Sexton was referring to the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, in which rioters sought to disrupt the counting of Presidential electoral votes for Joe Biden over Donald Trump.
No arrests or injuries were reported at the Tennessee Capitol protest against gun violence, according to WKRN.
In a video posted by abortion rights activist Olivia Julianna, Jones said that he and his colleagues have been removed from committees and that their member identification badges allowing access to the building have been deactivated.
“Each of us represents 70-80,000 people…by shutting me down, they’re shutting down the voice of my constituents,” Jones said.
The expulsion clause of the Tennessee Constitution gives each chamber of the state assembly the ability to expel a member for “disorderly behavior” — though that term has not been defined by state courts, according to a 2019 memo from the state attorney general’s office.
Previously, state house members have been expelled for “contempt of the authority of this house” — specifically, refusing to participate in a special session to ratify the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — in 1866; for corruption in 1980; and for “disorderly conduct” — namely, the sexual harassment of at least 22 women while in office — in 2016.
The resolutions are awaiting a vote.