Tennessee Republicans Move to Expel Democratic Colleagues Following Gun Control Protest

On April 4 2023, a popular post to Reddit’s r/politics described an attempt to expel three Nashville, Tennessee Democrats from the state House over a “gun control protest”:

According to local reports, this is an explicitly partisan and political effort, complete with state Republicans co-opting and misusing the term “insurrection” in an apparent effort to dilute its meaning:

Fact Check

Claim: On April 3 2023, lawmakers in Tennessee filed a resolution to expel three Democratic lawmakers over a gun control protest.

Description: On April 3rd, 2023 lawmakers in Tennessee filed a resolution to expel three Democratic lawmakers over a gun control protest. The lawmakers were Reps. Gloria Johnson (Knoxville), Justin Jones (Nashville) and Justin Pearson (Memphis).


Rating Explanation: It is true that the three Democrats were subject to an expulsion resolution, but ultimately, only two of them — Justin Jones and Justin Pearson — were expelled. Gloria Johnson was not expelled. However, Jones and Pearson were later reinstated to their roles, meaning that no Democratic lawmakers remain expelled over the protest.

Reps. Gloria Johnson (Knoxville), Justin Jones (Nashville) and Justin Pearson (Memphis) walked up to the well of the House during their Thursday session, violating rules of decorum in the chamber. The move has since been characterized by Republican lawmakers as an “insurrection,” including Speaker Cameron Sexton (R—Crossville).


“We get punished for doing something like listening to the people of the state of Tennessee,” Pearson said.

“The three of us were tired of our voice not being heard in the morning for Welcome and Honoring,” Johnson said. “We didn’t get called on for the voucher bill that happened, and we decided between bills we were going to walk up, we were going to acknowledge the people outside surrounding this building, in the rotunda, and we’re going to speak to their issue and tell them that we are with them, because they needed to hear that.”

“Our mics were cut off throughout the week whenever we tried to bring up the issue of gun violence,” Jones said. “When I went outside to support those protesting the Speak cut off my voting machine—the first time I’ve ever seen that happen. The Speaker refused to let us talk during welcoming and honoring to welcome our constituents—the thousands gathered outside the Capitol building.”

Two posts to Imgur that day described the same issues in Tennessee. One featured a screenshot of a local news item, and one depicted an April 3 2023 tweet by Sherrilyn Ifill, former president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund:

Ifill stated that three Democrats in Tennessee faced “expulsion from the [Tennessee] House,” adding that the elected lawmakers’ access badges had already been deactivated. Ifill retweeted a one-minute long clip of one of the state lawmakers — Rep. Justin Jones — explaining that he and two colleagues had been removed from their committees and functionally locked out.

On April 3 2023, the Tennessean published “Tennessee GOP begins expulsion process for 3 Democrats, House session devolves into chaos,” reporting that the expulsions followed the March 27 2023 Covenant school shooting:

Yells rang out through the state Capitol as Tennessee House Republicans on [April 3 2023] introduced resolutions to expel three Democrats for “disorderly behavior” after the trio led protest chants for gun reform on the floor of the chamber [in late March 2023] in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting.

On [March 30 2023], the three House Democrats approached the podium between bills without being recognized to speak, a breach of chamber rules. 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.

House leadership later likened the trio’s behavior to an “insurrection,” a characterization House Democrats decried [in late March 2023].

House Republicans formally introduced three expulsion resolutions at the end of Monday evening’s session [on April 3 2023]. The resolutions claim the three “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”

The Tennessean embedded an April 3 2023 tweet from Rep. Jones, who also described a physical altercation with another state lawmaker:

In addition to news coverage, a search for the excerpted phrase “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions” led us to a document [PDF] on capitol.tn.gov, “House Resolution 64.” It read in part:

A RESOLUTION to expel Gloria Johnson from her seat as a member of the House of Representatives of the One Hundred Thirteenth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee elected by the Ninetieth Representative District

WHEREAS, Article II, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution provides that “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offence; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free State”; and

WHEREAS, all members of the House of Representatives must comply with the Permanent Rules of Order of the Tennessee House of Representatives for the One Hundred Thirteenth General Assembly—including, preserving order, adhering to decorum, speaking only with recognition, not crowding around the Clerk’s desk, avoiding personalities, and not using props or displaying political messages; and

WHEREAS, during the House Floor Session (19th Legislative Day) on March 30, 2023, Gloria Johnson of Knox County, along with Justin J. Pearson of Shelby County and Justin Jones of Davidson County, did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions; and

WHEREAS, at approximately 10:49 AM, Representative Johnson and her colleagues, having gathered at her desk, moved in unison to the well and began shouting without recognition …

It concluded:

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, that, pursuant to the authority under Article II, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution, this Body hereby expels Gloria Johnson from her seat as a member of the House of Representatives of the One Hundred Thirteenth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee elected by the Ninetieth Representative District for her disorderly behavior occurring on March 30, 2023, and declares the Ninetieth Representative District seat vacant.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that copies of this resolution be prepared and forwarded to Gloria Johnson, the legislative body of Knox County, the Honorable Bill Lee, Governor of the State of Tennessee, and the Honorable Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

On April 4 2023, CNN covered the attempt to expel the three House Democrats in Tennessee, reporting that a vote on the bill was slated for April 6 2023. The Associated Press added:

The extraordinarily rare move [to expel the lawmakers] resulted in a chaotic and fiery confrontation between lawmakers and supporters opposing the move and has further fractured an already deep political division inside the Tennessee Legislature.

Resolutions have been filed against Reps. Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson after they led chants from the House floor with supporters in the gallery last Thursday [March 30 2023]. The resolution declared that the three had participated in “disorderly behavior” and “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives.”

Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso, and Andrew Farmer filed the resolutions. They successfully requested Monday [April 3 2023] that the House expedite the process and vote on the resolutions Thursday [April 6 2023].

On April 3 and 4 2023, several social media posts claimed three Tennessee lawmakers faced expulsion from the House after they purportedly engaged in a gun control protest. The bill was real, filed on April 3 2023. The Tennessee House was expected to vote on the measure on April 6 2023.

Update, 4/6/2023, 5:03 PM: As of April 6 2023, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson — both Black men — have been expelled. “We have lost democracy in Tennessee,” Jones said.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white woman, was not voted out:

Update, 4/11/2023, 4:43 PM: On April 11 2023, the top post on Reddit’s r/all (originally on r/pics) depicted Rep. Justin Jones being sworn in after his reinstatement:

On the same day, Reddit’s third most popular post on r/all (originally r/WhitePeopleTwitter) also referenced Jones’ reinstatement. On April 10 2023, Nashville-area outlet WLPN reported that Jones had been reinstated “on an interim basis”:

Nashville’s Metro Council has unanimously voted to reinstate freshman Democrat Justin Jones to his seat in the Tennessee House … The vote puts Jones into the seat on an interim basis.

“Justin Jones has been elected to the vacancy of Tennessee House 52 pursuant to the state law and the rules governing the Metropolitan Council,” Vice Mayor Jim Shulman announced at Monday [April 10 2023]’s specially called meeting, as cheers erupted in the gallery.

Metro Council rules ordinarily require members to wait four weeks before filling vacancies in the state legislature. But no members objected to moving faster in this case.

WLPN added that a similar meeting was slated in Shelby County for April 12 2023, to “discuss reappointing fellow ousted Rep. Justin Pearson.” An April 10 2023 article in The Guardian described the scene in Nashville, and quoted a statement from the Republican caucus:

Before the special council session was to begin [on April 10 2023], a couple of hundred people gathered in front of the Nashville courthouse, and more were pouring in. Some held signs reading “No Justin, No Peace”. Inside the courthouse, a line of people waited outside the council chambers for the doors to open.


The house majority leader, William Lamberth, and Republican Caucus chairman, Jeremy Faison, said they would welcome back the expelled lawmakers if they are reinstated.

“Tennessee’s constitution provides a pathway back from expulsion,” they said in a statement. “Should any expelled member be reappointed, we will welcome them. Like everyone else, they are expected to follow the rules of the house as well as state law.”

On April 11 2023, CNN.com reported:

The Nashville Metropolitan Council voted 36-0 [on April 10 2023] to reappoint Jones to the House of Representatives, making him once again the representative of House District 52 – but this time in the interim. State law allows local legislative bodies to appoint interim House members to fill the seats of expelled lawmakers until an election is held.

“Today we are sending a resounding message that democracy will not be killed in the comfort of silence,” Jones said to a cheering crowd [on April 10 2023] after marching back to the Capitol.

Now technically a new member, Jones said he can file 15 bills. He’ll be working on gun reform legislation as soon as he returns Tuesday [April 11 2023], he told CNN on Monday evening [April 10 2023]. Each of those bills would have to do with gun reform, he said, because “that’s what these young people are begging us to do.”

CNN also reported that Pearson’s explusion would be addressed on April 12 2023, quoting a Commission Chairman about the “hasty manner” by which Pearson and Jones were removed from their elected positions:

Meanwhile, Pearson’s still vacant District 86 seat is set to be addressed Wednesday [April 12 2023] during a Shelby County Board of Commissioners meeting in Memphis, announced Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery, who said Pearson’s expulsion was “conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods.”

“To anyone who has doubted the South, anyone who’s doubted the power of Tennesseans to advocate for an end to gun violence, anybody who’s doubted the movement to end assault weapons – anybody who’s doubted the movement, here’s your answer: The movement still lives,” said Pearson as he stood on the steps of the Capitol alongside Jones on Monday [April 10 2023].

An April 10 2023 syndicated Verify fact check addressed whether Pearson and Jones could be reinstated (prior to Jones’ interim reinstatement). In a section about Rep. Pearson, the outlet provided additional context regarding the legislative procedures specific to Shelby County:

Rep. Pearson is from Memphis, which is part of Shelby County. The legislative body is the Shelby County Board of Commissioners.

Like Metro Nashville, Shelby County lays out a process for appointing vacancies in its Permanent Rules of Order. It requires applicants to fill out an extensive form, complete interviews with commissioners, and then finally receive approval from a simple majority vote of the commission.

The rules also state “No vote shall be taken less than 30 days after notice of the vacancy is transmitted to the Members of the Commission.”

Rules can be suspended with a two-thirds vote of the commissioners.

Shelby County is rare in that there is recent precedent for filling legislative vacancies, having done so in 2021 following the expulsion of Rep. Robinson.

There are 13 commissioners in Shelby County; nine of them are Democrats. The Commercial Appeal reported that two Democratic members had already come out in favor of reappointing Pearson to his seat, and one Republican member had stated his opposition.

On Sunday [April 9 2023], Chairman Mickell Lowery announced the board would hold a special meeting to consider filling the vacancy on Wednesday, April 12 [2023].

As of April 11 2023, Rep. Jones had been reinstated, and an April 12 2023 “special meeting” in Shelby County, Tennessee was scheduled to address Pearson’s seat. Verify further noted that no part of the “rules of procedure or charters for either county disqualifies expelled members from being eligible for reappointment, or from running for reelection.”

Update, 4/12/2023, 5:43 PM: On April 12 2023, Rep. Justin Pearson was also reinstated:

An April 12 2023 BBC.com article reported that Pearson was reinstated in a 7-0 vote by the Shelby County Board of Commissioners:

The second of two Tennessee lawmakers expelled from the state legislature after leading a gun control protest on the chamber floor has been reinstated.

Justin Pearson, 29, got his seat back after a unanimous vote from seven members of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners [on April 12 2023].

His colleague Justin Jones, 27, was similarly put back in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Monday [April 11 2023].

NPR’s coverage noted that Reps. Pearson and Jones were reinstated “on an interim basis” pending the results of special elections:

A simple majority [sent Rep. Justin] Pearson back to the House[.] Pearson is returning to the legislature on an interim basis. For that to happen, he needed approval from a majority of the 13-member commission, which is made up of four Republicans and nine Democrats.

[Pearson] can also run in a special election to regain the seat until the next general election, in 2024.

The Associated Press reported that “[hundreds] of supporters marched Justin Pearson through Memphis to the Shelby County Board of Commissioners meeting, chanting and cheering before entering the commission chambers, where officials quickly voted 7-0 to restore him to his position,” adding:

The appointments [of Jones and Pearson] are interim and special elections for the seats will take place in the coming months. Jones and Pearson have said they plan to run in the special elections.

Local reporting by the Memphis Commercial Appeal was published in a liveblog format, with one section addressing lawmakers’ formal request for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the initial motion to expel Pearson and Jones:

Sen. Raphael Warnock and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter Wednesday [April 12 2023] to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the Department of Justice to investigate the expulsion of two Black lawmakers from the Tennessee General Assembly.

The letter, also signed by Sens. Chris Murphy, Alex Padilla, and Brian Schatz, asked Garland “to use all available legal authorities” to determine whether the expulsion of state Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones violated federal civil rights law or the Constitutional rights of the lawmakers or their constituents.

The letter notes that the state legislature has reportedly never expelled a member for procedural violation before and that Pearson and Jones, who are Black, were expelled while Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white and also part of the protest, was not.

“We cannot allow states to cite minor procedural violations as pretextual excuses to remove democratically-elected representatives, especially when these expulsions may have been at least partially on the basis of race,” the letter said. “Allowing such behavior sets a dangerous — and undemocratic — precedent.”


On April 6 2023, lawmakers in Tennessee voted to expel Democratic Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both Black men, while a third Democratic lawmaker (Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white woman) was not expelled. On April 10 2023, Nashville’s Metro Council voted unanimously to reinstate Jones “on an interim basis.” On April 12 2023, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 to reinstate Pearson “on an interim basis.” On the same day, Sen. Raphael Warnock and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland to request that the Department of Justice investigate the motion to expel the two lawmakers, adding that Americans “cannot allow states to cite minor procedural violations as pretextual excuses to remove democratically-elected representatives.”

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