Expelled Tennessee lawmakers reclaim their seats after gun control protest

The Tennessee Three are back in the House

Two Tennessee Democrats who were expelled from the state legislature in April by their Republican colleagues after joining protesters demanding stronger gun control legislation won back their seats late Thursday. Reps. Justin J. Pearson (D-Memphis) and Justin Jones (D-Nashville) easily defeated their Republican opponents in districts that lean Democrat, according to unofficial results from the Tennessee’s Secretary of State’s office.

Tennessee lawmakers

Pearson and Jones, along with Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), were dubbed the “Tennessee Three” by their supporters after they participated in a demonstration on the House floor on April 3, just days after a fatal shooting in Nashville at a private Christian school where a shooter killed three children and three adults. As thousands of protesters flooded the Capitol building to demand that the Republican supermajority enact some sort of restrictions on firearms, the three lawmakers approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn, and joined the protesters’ chants and cries for action.

Republican lawmakers quickly declared that their actions violated House rules and moved to expel their three colleagues — an extraordinary move that’s been taken only a handful of times since the Civil War. Johnson, who had previously served in the House from 2013 to 2015, was spared from expulsion because she had seniority over Pearson and Jones, who were elected to the Statehouse last year.

A special election to restore democracy

The expulsion of Pearson and Jones sparked outrage among Democrats and civil rights activists, who accused the Republicans of silencing dissenting voices and suppressing the will of the voters. They also argued that the expulsion was unconstitutional, as it violated the due process rights of the lawmakers and their constituents.

The two lawmakers filed a lawsuit against the state, seeking to overturn their expulsion and regain their seats. However, the case was dismissed by a federal judge in June, who ruled that the matter was a state issue and not a federal one. The judge also noted that a special election had already been scheduled for August 3 to fill the vacant seats, giving Pearson and Jones a chance to run again.

The special election drew national attention, as it was seen as a test of democracy and a referendum on gun control in Tennessee. Pearson and Jones faced Republican challengers who supported the GOP’s stance on gun rights and criticized their involvement in the protest. However, both Democrats had strong support from their communities, as well as endorsements from prominent figures such as former President Barack Obama, civil rights icon John Lewis, and actress Reese Witherspoon.

A victory for the people and a challenge for the future

Pearson and Jones celebrated their victory on Thursday night, thanking their supporters and vowing to continue fighting for their causes. They also expressed gratitude to Johnson, who stood by them throughout their ordeal and campaigned for them in the special election.

“I think if we keep running this race, there will be victory after victory after victory,” Pearson said to supporters on Thursday. He stressed that his victory was largely possible due to Black women and the organizing work they had done to make him and other politicians successful.

Jones echoed Pearson’s sentiments, saying that his win was a win for the people who had been marginalized and ignored by the Republican majority. He also said that he was ready to return to work and face his former colleagues who had expelled him.

“We’re going back into hostile territory,” Jones said. “But we’re going back with our heads held high, knowing that we have a mandate from our constituents to fight for them.”

The two lawmakers are expected to rejoin Johnson in the House when the legislature convenes for a special session later this month. The session was called by Gov. Bill Lee ® to address possibly changing the state’s gun control laws, among other issues. While Jones and Pearson’s reelection to their old posts won’t make a significant dent to the Republican supermajority inside the Legislature, they are expected to push back heavily against some of their GOP colleagues’ policies.

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