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April 10, 2023
“Justin Jones is reentering the chamber at the Tennessee State Legislature to tremendous applause.”
So said an MSNBC commentator today, after the Nashville Metro Council voted to return Democratic state representative Justin J. Jones to the Tennessee General Assembly. Last week, Republicans expelled Jones and his colleague Justin Pearson, who represents parts of Memphis, for breaches of decorum after they joined with protesters to call for gun safety legislation in the wake of a school shooting last week that left six people, including three 9-years-olds, dead. The colleague who protested with them, Gloria Johnson, survived a motion to expel her, too, by a single vote.
The vote to reinstate Jones to the legislature in an interim seat, until a new election can be held, was 36 to 0.
After the vote, Jones led a march of thousands of people—mostly young people, from the look of the video—back to the Tennessee Capitol building where he was sworn back into office on the Capitol steps.
Once sworn back into office, Jones reentered the legislative chamber arm in arm with Representative Johnson. To great applause, he walked through the chamber, fist held high, past Republican representatives who sat silent and pretended not to see him, as the galleries cheered.
The Shelby County Commission will vote on a replacement for Representative Justin J. Pearson on Wednesday. It can, if it chooses, return Pearson to his former seat until a special election can be held.
In a statement yesterday, Chair Mickell Lowery of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners, a Democrat, said, “The protests at the State Capitol by citizens recently impacted by the senseless deaths of three 9-year-old children and three adults entrusted with their care at their school was understandable given the fact that the gun laws in the State of Tennessee are becoming nearly non-existent. It is equally understandable that the leadership of the State House of Representatives felt a strong message had to be sent to those who transgressed the rules.” Lowery went on to say: “However, I believe the expulsion of State Representative Justin Pearson was conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods.“
Lowery noted that he was one of the more than 68,000 citizens stripped of their state representation by the state legislature and said he was “certain that the leaders in the State Capitol understand the importance of this action on behalf of the affected citizens here in Shelby County, Tennessee, and that we stand ready to work in concert with them to assist with only positive outcomes going forward.”
Yesterday, representatives Jones and Johnson flew from Nashville to Newark, and it happened that Joan Baez, the folk music legend, was on the same airplane. In the Newark airport, Jones asked Baez to sing with him. As Johnson filmed them, together they sang two spiritual-based freedom songs that became anthems in the Civil Rights Era: “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” and “We Shall Overcome.”