Tennessee House Republicans on Monday filed resolutions to expel three Democrats for “disorderly behavior” after the trio led protest chants for gun reform on the floor of the chamber last week in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting.
The official expulsion resolutions state the trio “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
Lawmakers have not yet voted for expulsion. Once the House votes on the resolution, it is expected to trigger an expulsion process that would give the trio a chance to defend themselves at another floor session before a final expulsion vote.
Still, the resolutions were approved by a majority of the Republican caucus, which holds a supermajority in the General Assembly. Democrats will have little power to block expulsions if House Republicans move forward with a vote.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, referred to Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, as the “former representative” from Davidson County on Monday night.
The trio were present and voted on bills Monday night. Together, they represent more than 210,000 constituents.
On Thursday, the three House Democrats approached the podium between bills without being recognized to speak — breaching the chamber’s rules of procedure.
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Sexton immediately recessed the chamber, halting legislative business for nearly an hour before it resumed, and ordered security to clear the House galleries.
With a bullhorn, Reps. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis led protestors in the galleries in several chants calling for gun reform. At no point did any demonstrators make their way onto the House floor.
Following the demonstration, Johnson, Pearson, and Jones’ access to the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Building and member’s parking garage was restricted. Johnson told reporters Monday that her building access badge had been deactivated, and she was unable to access the building to retrieve her mobility scooter over the weekend.
“No one told me that my garage pass was cut off. No one told me that my badge to the building was cut off,” Johnson said. “My scooter was inside the building. I needed it at home. I don’t always need it at home on the weekend, but I needed it this past weekend because there was a big downtown event.”
Doug Kufner, a spokesperson for Sexton, confirmed access was restricted for the three members on Monday.
“Rep. Johnson was on limited access after her antics on Thursday,” Kufner told The Tennessean. “A trooper is always on-site, and the number is posted on the door outside the garage. They could have helped her. Rep. Johnson could have also called her leadership team for her caucus, the clerk, the speaker’s office, or HR if she has trouble accessing the building.”
All three continue to have access to their offices and legislative staff. Both Pearson and Jones spoke on the floor Monday night.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, stripped Johnson and Jones of their committee assignments. Pearson does not serve on any committees.
“What they did was try to hold up the people’s business on the House floor instead of doing it the way that they should have done it, which they have the means to do,” Sexton said. “They actually thought that they would be arrested. And so they decided that them being a victim was more important than focusing on the six victims from Monday. And that’s appalling.”
Waiting outside the chamber on Monday night, Jones said a bipartisan expulsion vote would be “unprecedented.”
The last time the House expelled a sitting lawmaker was in 2016 when the chamber voted 70-2 to remove then-Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, from the House for alleged sexual misconduct. At the time, it was the first expulsion since 1980 and only the second since the Civil War.
Robert Fisher was kicked out of the House in 1980 after being convicted of soliciting a $1,000 bribe in exchange to kill a bill. Six lawmakers were ousted during an 1866 special session after they tried to prevent Tennessee from ratifying an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to provide citizenship to former slaves.
Last year, for the first time in its history, the Tennessee Senate voted to expel a senator, stripping Sen. Katrina Robinson, D-Memphis, of her elected position following her federal conviction on federal wire fraud charges.
Reach Melissa Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org and Vivian Jones at email@example.com.