Three Tennessee House Democrats could be removed from office after protesting gun violence on the chamber floor in the wake of the Nashville school shooting.
Reps. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, Justin Jones of Nashville, and Justin Pearson of Memphis used bullhorns to lead a protest on the House floor last week, calling for gun reform as demonstrators outside of the state Capitol demanded lawmakers take action to prevent further gun violence, per CNN. The protest came after a March 27 shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville left three nine-year-old students and three adults dead.
The three Democratic lawmakers were accused of breaking House decorum rules and were removed from their committee assignments following the protest. On Monday (April 3), GOP lawmakers filed three resolutions seeking to expel the House Democrats from office.
“It’s morally insane that a week after a mass shooting took six precious lives in my community here in Nashville, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, their first action is not to take actions to rein in this proliferation of weapons of war in our streets, but it’s to expel their colleagues for standing with our constituents,” Jones told CNN on Wednesday (April 5).
“This is not just about losing my job,” he said, adding that constituents of the three representatives “are being taken and silenced by a party that is acting like authoritarians.”
The Tennessee House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Thursday (April 6) on whether to remove the three from office. Only two other lawmakers, one for alleged sexual harassment and the other for bribery, have been expelled from the House in the last 157 years.
Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton (R) said the three representatives' actions “are and always will be unacceptable," citing that they broke “several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor.” Sexton further stated their actions pulled attention away from the school shooting victims and peaceful protestors gathered at the capitol.
“In effect, those actions took away the voices of the protestors, the focus on the six victims who lost their lives, and the families who lost their loved ones,” Sexton tweeted on Monday. “We cannot allow the actions of the three members to distract us from protecting our children. We will get through this together, and it will require talking about all solutions."
According to the resolutions filed to remove the lawmakers, Johnson, Jones, and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives" as they “began shouting without recognition” and “proceeded to disrupt the proceedings of the House Representatives” last week.
Under the Tennessee Constitution, the House is allowed to set its own rules and “punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”
The possible expulsion was condemned by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee.
“Instead of rushing to expel members for expressing their ethical convictions about crucial social issues,” ACLU executive director Kathy Sinback said, “House leadership should turn to solving the real challenges facing our state.”