On Thursday, the Tennessee House of Representatives will vote on whether to remove three Democratic legislators from office. They were accused of using a bullhorn to protest gun reform after last month's school shootings in Nashville.
Monday's GOP lawmakers filed three resolutions to expel Gloria Johnson of Knoxville and Justin Jones of Nashville. Justin Pearson of Memphis was also included in the resolutions. Each of these men were removed from their respective committee assignments last week following demonstrations.
CNN affiliate WSMV reported that three legislators led a protest on Thursday at the House floor. They used a bullhorn to call on lawmakers to stop gun violence following the deaths of three children, aged 9 and 3, at The Covenant School, a Christian private school.
Jones said that it was morally absurd for my colleagues on the opposite side of the aisle to not take action to stop the proliferation of weapons in our streets a week after six people were killed in a Nashville mass shooting. Instead, they should expel their colleagues who stood with our constituents.
He said, "This isn't just about losing my job," adding that constituents of the three representatives were being taken and silenced 'by a party acting like authoritarians."
Cameron Sexton, the Republican Speaker of the House, stated this week that the actions of three Democrats 'are and will always be unacceptable' and violated'several rules and procedures on the House's floor.
Sexton stated that peaceful protestors were always welcome to the capitol to be heard on any issue. However, the actions of Democratic legislators had detracted from this process.
Sexton stated in a series tweets Monday that 'In essence, those actions took away voices of protestors' and that the focus was on six victims who lost lives and their families who lost loved ones'.
"We can't allow the actions by the three members of the group to distract from protecting our children. This will all be possible together. It will require that we discuss all options.
According to each resolution, the lawmakers "knowingly and inadvertently brought disorder and dishonor the House of Representatives," claiming they "began shouting and didn't recognize" and "proceded to disrupt proceedings of the House Representatives" for less than an hour on Thursday morning.
These resolutions are intended to remove lawmakers from office pursuant to Article II, Section 12, of the Tennessee Constitution. This section states that the House can make its own rules and 'punish its member for disorderly behaviour and, with the consent of two-thirds of its members, expel a member.
The Tennessee House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans with 75 members in comparison to the 23 Democrats. One seat remains vacant.
The code permits the temporary appointment of members to the House while the seats of expelled are filled through an election.
On Tuesday, Pearson shared publicly a letter he had sent to House members. He took responsibility for not following decorum on the House Floor while also defending his actions.
"My peaceful, civil walk to the House floor was not insurrection. According to an Instagram image, Pearson wrote that he wanted to respond to Tennesseans' voices and allow them to have meaningful dialogue.
Pearson wrote, "If this House decides that I am expelled for exercising my sacred first amendment right in order to help elevate voices within our community who want us to act to prevent gun violence,"
In a statement, House Democrats expressed solidarity to Johnson, Jones, and Pearson, while Rep. Sam McKenzie of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators called the move "political revenge".
McKenzie stated that he and his family object to any attempt to expel anyone for speaking out against gun violence.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee also condemned the move to expel lawmakers. Kathy Sinback, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee called expulsion "an extreme measure" that is rarely used. Sinback said expulsion was 'because it strips voters of representation by those they elected'
Sinback stated that instead of exiling members because they express their moral convictions on crucial social issues, Sinback suggested that the House leadership should focus on solving the real problems facing our state.