An Abuse of Power! Tennessee Democratic Lawmakers Expelled from the Courtroom

 By Gloria Alcántara, 12th Grade

There was nothing but chaos on April 6th at one Courthouse in Tennessee. Hundreds of protesters jammed into the small space at the state Capitol during the demonstrations. They sprawled out on the outside, continuing their chants for a change in legislation. The diplomats in the session, however, in an attempt to calm down the ruckus, just happened to turn it for the worse as the protesters happened to witness three lawmakers who were fighting for their cause being guided off of the premises against their will. This is the first time multiple Tennessee legislators have been ousted in a single legislative session since 1866, when Tennessee was struggling to adopt citizenship rights for formerly enslaved people after the Civil War.

The expulsion occurred in the wake of the heated debate over gun legislation. As shootings have been increasing in the county of Nashville, Democratic representatives Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, and joined demonstrators gathered at the statehouse on March 30th to demand stricter gun control laws. The three entered the House chamber during the protest and led chants from the lectern, disrupting proceedings. During the protest, Mr. Jones held a sign that read “protect kids, not guns”, and also led protest chants, shouting “no action, no peace” into a megaphone. This was an act that disrupted official proceedings to a serious extent, but their actions were justified by “that in carrying out the protest, the three had broken a House rule because we’re fighting for kids who are dying from gun violence and people in our communities who want to see an end to the proliferation of weapons in our communities.”

In response to these shouts, the Republican-run judiciary tried to restore calm by using an incredibly unusual tactic—removing the politicians from their chosen positions. Even more shockingly, the previous strategy really succeeded. The three were removed from the legislature by Republicans, who control a strong majority of seats after they were accused of “disorderly behavior” on April 3rd. Three different Tennessee Republicans introduced them. Along party lines, colleagues voted to remove Reps. Jones and Pearson from the body by scores of 72–25 and 69–26, respectively. On Thursday, Gloria Johnson was the only one of the “Tennessee Three” to keep her position in the legislature, holding onto it by a single vote. Her committee duties have been taken away, and it’s uncertain whether they will be reinstated. 

Before the vote, Jones, Pearson, and Johnson noted that if they were expelled, more than 200,000 Tennesseans would lose the representatives they lawfully elected last fall. “We are losing our democracy in Tennessee,” Pearson told WPLN. “This is another example of the erosion of democracy because we spoke up for gun reform. Because we spoke up for people and children who will never become state legislators, who will never graduate from high school and never get engaged, never be able to see or protest for their own lives because they’ve been killed by gun violence.” Republicans have defended their actions by comparing the protests to the capital insurrection on January 6th. On this, House Speaker Cameron Sexton stated: “What they did today was equivalent, at least equivalent, maybe worse depending on how you look at it, to doing an insurrection in the State Capitol.”

Their attempts to defend their actions have been in vain, as the mass media have publicly shamed the courthouse for its misuse of power. The move has been criticized by Tennessee’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as an “extreme measure.” Kathy Sinback, the executive director of Tennessee’s ACLU, said that “Trying to expel three lawmakers without due process for amplifying the voices of their constituents in a peaceful, non-violent manner undermines democracy.” In Washington, President Joe Biden also was critical of the expulsions, calling them “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent. He added that “rather than debating the merits of the issue (of gun control), these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee.” The court has also been accused of racist underpinnings behind the expulsion, as the one lawmaker who has not been expelled, Rep. Gloria Johnson, was the only one who was white.


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