Why Was Justin Jones Expelled?

The Tennessee state House’s recent expulsion of two Democratic lawmakers has drawn widespread scrutiny and accusations of racial bias. The lawmakers in question, Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, were stripped of their committee assignments before being expelled from the House in a vote that has raised questions about the limits of First Amendment activity for elected officials.

What happened?

Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones (D-Nashville) was expelled from the state House in April 2023, along with fellow Democrat Justin Pearson (D-Memphis). The two lawmakers were stripped of their committee assignments earlier that week after participating in a gun violence protest in the aftermath of a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville that left six dead, including three 9-year-old children.

Republicans accused three lawmakers, Jones, Pearson, and Johnson, of intentionally causing chaos and shame in the House of Representatives. The trio led a protest demanding stricter gun control regulations on the House floor, without being recognized first.

The resolutions for their expulsion state that they disrupted the proceedings of the House Representatives by shouting out of turn. The Republican leaders in the chamber reacted by condemning the protest, revoking the lawmakers’ committee assignments, and calling for a vote to expel them.

Both Jones and Pearson are Black, and Jones claims that his race played a significant role in his expulsion. He alleges that a fellow member called him an “uppity Negro” before the vote, adding that his colleagues on the other side of the aisle did not want him in the state House from the moment he arrived.

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Jones’ expulsion has raised concerns about the Tennessee state House’s commitment to democracy and First Amendment rights. Many have questioned whether his First Amendment rights were violated, as he was expelled for participating in a peaceful protest. Jones has also argued that his constituents, who he represents, would be disenfranchised because of his expulsion.

Why was he expelled?

Jones and Pearson were expelled from the state House for participating in a gun violence protest in the aftermath of a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville. They were stripped of their committee assignments earlier this week, and the expulsion vote followed shortly afterward.

The Republican-controlled House voted 72-25 to expel both lawmakers, citing their participation in the protest as a violation of House rules.

However, Jones has argued that his expulsion was also racially motivated, and that he was called an “uppity Negro” by a fellow member before the vote.

The incident has sparked a national conversation about racism in politics and the need for more diversity in political leadership. Several congressional leaders, including the Congressional Black Caucus and Reverend Al Sharpton, have rallied behind Jones and Pearson, who have become known as the Tennessee Three.

Jones has continued to speak out about his expulsion and the role that racism played in it. He has called the state House’s move a dangerous precedent for the nation, arguing that it sets a tone that will discourage diverse voices from running for office.

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What does it mean?

For Jones personally, his expulsion means he will no longer be able to serve as a state representative in Tennessee. However, he has indicated that he will continue to advocate for his constituents and for the causes that he believes in. He has also received significant support from various quarters, suggesting that his influence may continue to be felt in Tennessee politics, despite his expulsion.

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The Tennessee Constitution stipulates that a special election must be conducted to fill vacant seats if there is more than a year left before the next general election in November 2024. Meanwhile, the Constitution allows the legislative body of the replaced legislator’s county of residence to choose an interim successor if the vacancy arises before the special election.


Davidson County’s Metropolitan Council is responsible for replacing Jones in this scenario. The council has arranged a special meeting to address the District 52 vacancy and consider selecting an interim successor. Nashville Mayor John Cooper has expressed his support for Jones, stating on Twitter that he believes the council will choose him to continue serving his constituents.

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