1st of 2 Black Democrats to return to legislature after gun control protest on the House floor
One of the two Black Democrats who were expelled last week from the Republican-led Tennessee House was reinstated Monday after Nashville's governing council voted to send him straight back to the legislature.
The unanimous vote by the Nashville Metropolitan Council restored Rep. Justin Jones to office just four days after Republicans stripped him of his seat.
Republicans banished the two lawmakers last week over their role in a gun-control protest on the House floor in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting.
The other lawmaker, Justin Pearson, could be reappointed Wednesday.
County legislatures are empowered to fill local vacancies to the Tennessee statehouse until a special election can be held to fill out the remainder of the two-year term.
Special elections for the seats will take place in the coming months. Jones and Pearson have said they plan to run in the special election.
Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton's spokesperson, Doug Kufner, indicated that whoever is appointed to the vacancies by the Nashville and Shelby County governments "will be seated as representatives as the constitution requires."
House Majority Leader William Lamberth and Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison said they will welcome back the expelled lawmakers if they are reinstated.
"Tennessee's constitution provides a pathway back for 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."
2 of 3 Tennessee Democrats expelled over gun control protest
Republicans in the Tennessee Legislature have voted to remove two Democrats, both Black men, from their seats for protesting in support of gun control. But a third Democrat who participated in the protest — a White woman — survived her vote, raising concern that race could be a subtext.
Fellow Democrat says skin colour a factor in expulsions
A third Democrat targeted for expulsion, Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, also attracted national attention in the U.S.
Johnson, who is white, was spared expulsion by a single vote. Republican lawmakers justified splitting their votes by saying Johnson had less of a role in the protest: she didn't speak into the megaphone, for example.
She told reporters it "might have to do with the colour of our skin."
The expulsions on Thursday made Tennessee a new front in the battle for the future of American democracy and propelled the ousted lawmakers into the national spotlight.
Republicans dispute race was an issue
The political tensions rose when the three joined with hundreds of demonstrators who packed the state Capitol last month to call for passage of gun-control measures.
As protesters filled galleries, the lawmakers approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn and participated in a chant.
The scene unfolded days after the shooting at the Covenant School, a private Christian school where six people were killed, including three children.
The expelled lawmakers have filled out their legal teams. Eric Holder, who served as attorney general under former president Barack Obama, now represents Jones.
"The world is watching Tennessee," attorneys for Jones and Pearson wrote in a letter 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."
Republican leaders have said the expulsions, a mechanism used only a handful times since the U.S. Civil War, had nothing to do with race and instead were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that lawmakers' disruptions of House proceedings through protest would be tolerated.
Expulsion has generally been reserved as a punishment for lawmakers accused of serious misconduct, not used as a weapon against political opponents.
How the Nashville school shooting led to new political battles | About That
This week, the world witnessed yet another mass shooting at a school in the U.S. Three 9-year-old students and three staff members were killed. Andrew Chang discusses how this school shooting in particular has been politicized by some lawmakers.
With a file from Reuters
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