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Nashville council to vote on restoring ousted state lawmaker

Representative Justin Jones, a Black Democratic lawmaker, was expelled by Republican colleagues for participating in a gun control protest on the Tennessee House floor last week

Tennessee
From left, expelled Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Gloria Johnson, and expelled Rep. Justin Jones raise their fists as they walk across Fisk University campus on April 7, 2023, in Nashville, Tennessee.Associated Press/LaPresse (Associated Press/LaPresse)

Nashville officials are poised to vote Monday to reinstate one of the two Black Democratic lawmakers expelled by Republican colleagues for their gun control protest on the Tennessee House floor after a deadly school shooting — essentially, sending him back after a long weekend.

Nashville’s metro council has called the meeting to address the vacancy left by the expulsion on Thursday of former Representative Justin Jones. Many councilmembers have publicly commented that they want to send Jones back to the statehouse. The vote will happen as state lawmakers hold their first floor sessions since last week’s expulsion votes.

Expelled Memphis Representative Justin Pearson, meanwhile, could be reappointed at a Wednesday meeting of the Shelby County Commission.

Special elections for the seats, which have not yet been set, will take place in the coming months. Jones and Pearson have said they want to be reappointed and plan to run in a special election.

At the Statehouse, meanwhile, it’s unclear how House Republicans would respond to seeing the lawmakers they kicked out sent right back. House Speaker Cameron Sexton has said lawmakers will go through the process if or when they are reappointed.

The expulsions have made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy, while propelling the ousted lawmakers into the national spotlight. Jones and Pearson have quickly drawn prominent supporters. President Joe Biden spoke with them and Vice President Kamala Harris visited them in Nashville.

A third Democrat targeted for expulsion, Representative Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, has also garnered national attention. Johnson, who is white, was spared expulsion by a one-vote margin. Republican lawmakers justified splitting their votes by saying Johnson had less of a role in the protest — she didn’t speak into the megaphone, for example.

The protesting lawmakers had called on Republicans to pass some sort of gun control legislation in the aftermath of the Nashville school shooting that killed six people, including three young children and three adults working at the school. The shooter was killed by police.

Johnson has also suggested race was likely a factor on why Jones and Pearson were ousted but not her, telling reporters it “might have to do with the color of our skin.”

GOP leaders have said the actions — used only a handful times since the Civil War — had nothing to do with race, and instead were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that lawmakers’ disruptions of House proceedings through protest would be tolerated.

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