Expelled Tenn. House Dems could soon be back

Members of local bodies tasked with filling the seats have signaled they would support appointing the lawmakers.
Former Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, and former Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, raises their hands outside the House chamber after Jones and Pearson were expelled from the legislature Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Two Tennessee House Democrats expelled Thursday by their Republican colleagues could head right back to the legislature.

Members of the Nashville Metro Council, which has jurisdiction to fill the vacant legislative seat previously held by Justin Jones (D), want to appoint him to the state House seat. In Shelby County, Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery said that body, which has authority to fill Justin Pearson’s (D) seat, would also consider appointing him.

The Nashville Metro Council scheduled a meeting for Monday to name an interim successor to the seat. Several members of Nashville Metro Council signaled their support for Jones.

“Sending @brotherjones back to the People’s House is the right thing to do,” Councilwoman Kyonzte Toombs tweeted. “You can add me to the list in favor of reinstatement.”

“I will vote to name Justin Jones back into the State House to represent my constituents in House District 52,” tweeted Bob Mendes, a Nashville councilmember-at-large.

Jones and Pearson were expelled because they, and a third House Democrat who survived an expulsion vote, stood in front of the clerk’s desk last week, held up a sign, and used a bullhorn to call for action against gun violence — days after three children and three adults were shot and killed at a Nashville school.

House Republican leaders said the protest violated House rules and sought to expel all three. The vote for Rep. Gloria Johnson (D) came up one vote short of the two-thirds majority needed to expel her.

If the House lawmakers are returned to their offices, they would be safe from any further action by the GOP majority over the protest. Members cannot be expelled twice for the same offense, according to the House rules.

Under the state constitution, when a Tennessee House or Senate seat becomes vacant and the vacancy comes more than 12 months before the end of the member’s term, it is up to the local council to elect an interim successor to serve until a special election occurs to fill the vacancy.

Jones and Pearson appear to also be preparing to run again for their seats. Both reactivated their ActBlue accounts to begin raising campaign funds. Members are prohibited from doing during the legislative session, but that prohibition does not currently apply to them.

Lowery told the Memphis Commercial Appeal before the vote that he would call a special meeting to replace Pearson if he was expelled and that he would also seek a legal opinion on whether Pearson can be appointed. Shelby County Commissioner Britney Thornton (D) told the newspaper she will “wholeheartedly” back Pearson’s appointment.

No special meeting had been scheduled as of Friday morning. The the next regularly scheduled meeting of the full Shelby County Commission is April 17.