On Monday, the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to reinstate Justin Jones, a Democrat removed from the state Legislature by Republicans just last week. Jones and fellow Democrat Justin J. Pearson, who are Black, were expelled from the House after leading supporters in chants calling for gun control measures following a shooting at a Nashville school that killed six people, including three 9-year-old children. The two lawmakers had broken House rules using a bullhorn when they were not recognized to speak.
The decision to expel Jones and Pearson drew national attention to the racial dynamics in Tennessee’s legislative body. After the council vote on Monday, Jones was sworn in on the steps of the State Capitol, where he raised his fist and was greeted by supporters chanting, “Welcome home!” In a speech on the House floor, Jones thanked the council for “awakening the people of this state, particularly the young people,” and reminding everyone that “the struggle for justice is fought and won in every generation.”
House leaders had cast the protest as an “insurrection,” and their decision to expel Jones and Pearson was criticized as hasty and without consideration of other corrective action methods. The Shelby County Board of Commissioners will meet on Wednesday to consider action to reappoint Pearson to his seat.
Despite tensions among fellow legislators and feeling targeted because of their race, Jones and Pearson have said they will seek re-election. Democrats in Washington have rallied around the “Tennessee Three,” as the group has been called, with Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden offering support. Nashville residents, particularly Black residents, have expressed outrage at the lawmakers’ ousting, saying it silenced their voices and undermined democracy.
Under state rules, Governor Bill Lee must schedule a primary for Jones’ and Pearson’s seats within 60 days and a general election within 107 days.