The GOP Kicked Justin Jones Out of the Tennessee House. Two Days Later, He’s Back.

Rep. Justin Jones was sworn in last night, and a vote on the seat vacated by former Rep. Justin Pearson is set for Wednesday.
State Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville speaks outside the Capitol on April 10, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Seth Herald/Getty Images)

Just days after Tennessee Republicans drew national outcry by expelling two young Black lawmakers for a brief, nonviolent protest, one of those legislators is already back.

Nashville and Davidson County’s governing body, the Metropolitan Council,  held an emergency meeting Monday  to fill the vacancy left by the expulsion of Nashville Rep. Justin Jones, and voted unanimously to reappoint him to the Tennessee House of Representatives. Jones and hundreds of supporters then marched to the nearby steps of the state Capitol, where he was sworn in for the second time this year. 


“I want to welcome the people back to the people’s house. I want to welcome democracy back to the people’s house,” Jones, a civil rights activist who was first elected to the House in November, said in his first floor remarks after being sworn back in. “On last Thursday, members tried to crucify democracy, but today we have a resurrection.”

On March 30, just days after the deadly mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville, Reps. Jones, Justin Pearson, and Gloria Johnson  joined protesters for gun reforms on the floor of the House. Jones and Pearson were expelled by the Republican supermajority Thursday for “intentionally bring[ing] disorder and dishonor” to the General Assembly. Johnson, a former teacher and the only white member of the Tennessee Three, defeated the effort to oust her last week by one vote.

During Monday’s emergency meeting, Nashville Mayor John Cooper called the vote “unprecedented.” “Voters in District 52 elected Justin Jones to be their voice at the statehouse, and that voice was taken away this past week,” Cooper said, according to the Tennessean. “So let’s give them their voice back. I call on this body to vote unanimously, right now, to do just that.”


A similar vote on an interim appointment for the seat vacated by Rep. Justin Pearson of Memphis will be held Wednesday, in an emergency meeting of the Shelby County commission. Pearson has said he seeks reappointment to the seat. 

The chair of the commission, Mickell Lowery, has been noncommittal on how he would vote, but said Sunday that he believed Pearson’s expulsion “was conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods,” according to a statement.

The interim appointments to the Tennessee legislature are temporary; Jones and Pearson will have to again run for office in special elections set by Gov. Bill Lee. Lee has not set the date for those elections, but both Jones and Pearson have said they intend to run in special elections.

Tennessee Republicans hold a supermajority in the state House. House Republican leaders said in a statement Monday that they would not seek to stop Jones and Pearson from coming back to the House. “Should any expelled member be reappointed, we will welcome them,” Majority Leader William Lamberth and Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison said in a joint statement. “Like everyone else, they are expected to follow the rules of the House as well as state law.”


But there had been prior indications that Republicans would seek to stop the Democrats’ return to the legislature. Shelby County Commissioner Erika Sugarmon told Fox 13 Friday that Tennessee Republicans were threatening to cut funding to Memphis, including funding for schools and money to renovate the arena the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies play in, which House Speaker Cameron Sexton denied. 

Jones also previously said that Sexton “sent lawyers” to tell the expelled lawmakers that they wouldn’t be able to come back during this session of the General Assembly, or until 2025 at the earliest. 

Jones and Pearson retained their own lawyers including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who called the expulsion “extraordinary, illegal, and without any historical or legal precedent.” They also said that retaliation against the lawmakers or the government bodies in charge of their appointments “would constitute further unconstitutional action that would require redress.”

On Monday, Jones called for Sexton to resign. 

“His actions on Thursday, he thought would happen as all his other abuses of power, he thought that no one would pay attention, that no one was watching, that they had ultimate authority,” Jones said outside of the Capitol. “But they forgot that the people would show up and were watching.”

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