One of the two Black Democrats expelled last week from the Republican-led Tennessee House was quickly reinstated Monday after the governing council of Nashville voted to send him back to the Legislature.
The Nashville Metropolitan Council took only minutes to unanimously vote to restore Representative Justin Jones to his office only four days after being expelled.
Jones marched down to the capitol, several blocks away, only moments later. The representative took the oath of office on the capitol steps while supporters sang, “This Little Light of Mine.”
After the round of applause, Jones walked into the chamber, accompanied by Democrat Representative Gloria Johnson, who was spared by one vote from expulsion.
“To the people of Tennessee, I stand with you,” said Jones in a statement on the floor of the House. “We will continue to be your voice here. And no expulsion, no attempt to silence us will stop us, but it will only galvanize and strengthen our movement. And we will continue to show up in the people’s House.”
“Power to the people,” shouted GOP House Speaker Cameron Sexton to Jones’ supporters in the galleries. “Please refrain from disrupting the proceedings.”
Republicans banished Jones and fellow lawmaker Justin Pearson over their role in a gun-control protest on the floor of the House in the deadly school shooting aftermath.
Pearson could be reappointed at the Shelby County Commission meeting on Wednesday.
Jones’s appointment is on an interim basis. Special elections for the lawmakers’ seats will happen in the upcoming months. Pearson and Jones have confirmed they plan to run in the special election.
Sexton referred some questions to human resources while stating that appointed lawmakers were not eligible for committee assignments in the past. After Monday’s session, Jones spoke on the House floor and asked Sexton if he could be reappointed to legislative committees after being stripped of committee assignments last week. He also asked to be given full access to the legislative buildings, including the parking garage and health care benefits.
Meanwhile, Pearson told reporters on Monday that “the lessons that we’ve gotten here is what people power works.”
“It is because thousands — millions — of people have decided that they will march, they will lift up their voices and elevate them to end gun violence to protect our communities and ensure that the voice of the people that we care to represent us are heard in the state Capitol and all across this country,” said Pearson.
Biden, Harris voiced support for expelled lawmakers
Pearson and Jones quickly drew supporters after their expulsion. President Joe Biden spoke to the legislators while Vice President Kamala Harris visited them in Nashville. Eric Holder, attorney general under former President Barack Obama, now represents Jones.
“The world is watching Tennessee,” attorneys for Pearson and Jones wrote to Sexton in a letter on Monday. “Any partisan retributive action, such as the discriminatory treatment of elected officials, or threats or actions to withhold funding for government programs, would constitute further unconstitutional action that would require redress.”