By Nadira Freeman
Last Thursday, the Republican supermajority in the TN House of Representatives voted to expel two newly elected, first-term Democrats that are young, African-American men. Rep. Justin Jones represents House District 52 in Nashville and Rep. Justin Pearson represents House District 86 in Memphis. They were expelled for participating in a nonviolent protest for stricter gun laws after the recent mass shooting at a Nashville school.
Nationally, Republicans have not been shy about their efforts to limit democracy. We’ve seen several bills come through state legislatures designed to restrict voting rights. These anti-democratic efforts extend beyond restrictions on voting as this is an example to impede the right to representation of the people. The expulsion of Jones and Pearson sought to undermine the tens of thousands of voters who duly elected both of them to office.
On Monday, April 10, at 4:30pm the Metro Council of Nashville Davidson County called a special meeting to address filling the House District 52 vacancy due to the adoption of HR0065 by the State House on April 6, 2023. With no objections to the suspension of the rules, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman opened the meeting. In attendance was Mayor John Cooper, who called for the body to vote unanimously to reappointment Rep. Justin Jones to his seat.
Councilmember Deleishia Porterfield – who Jones primaried for the D52 House seat – made the nomination for his reinstatement from the Council floor and shared her remarks. “This assault on our democracy resulted in over 70,000 Davidson County voters, our voters, being silenced when our Representative was expelled. With this vote to reinstate Representative Jones, we are restoring the political voice of the 70,000 people of District 52.” She added, “The people choose their representatives. With this vote, we will send a strong message to our state government and across the country that we will not tolerate threats to our democracy.”
In a 36-0 vote, the Metro Council voted to appoint Justin Jones as the interim Representative for D52. A certified copy of council minutes was expeditiously adopted in the second special called meeting immediately following the appointment of Rep. Jones. The swift action of the Metro Council allowed for Rep. Jones to be sworn back into his seat on the Capitol steps before re-entering the House chamber for the House Session that began at 5:00 pm.
He addressed the body, “I want to welcome the people back to the people’s house, I want to welcome democracy back to the people’s house… No unjust attack on democracy will happen unchallenged. The abuse of this body will not happen in the comfort of silence. I am hopeful for the days ahead for Tennessee, not because of the actions of this body, but the actions of the people who responded to your attacks on democracy with an attack of mass movement for social justice, racial justice, and economic justice. I want to thank you all, not for what you did but for awakening the people of this state, particularly the young people. Thank you for reminding us that the struggle for justice is fought and won in every generation.”
We will be watching to see if the 13 commissioners of the Shelby County Board of Commission will vote to reappointment Rep. Justin Pearson on Wednesday at 1:30 pm.