Two Democratic lawmakers have been ousted from the Republican-controlled Tennessee state House of Representatives and one was allowed to stay in what marks the first partisan expulsion in the state’s modern history.
The three lawmakers — State Reps. Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, who were expelled, and Rep. Gloria Johnson — faced separate expulsion hearings Thursday for allegedly violating the chamber’s rules of decorum by participating in a gun control protest at the state Capitol last week.
At one point during the protest, the trio stood at the well of the House chambers, leading chants with a megaphone. The demonstration came in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting in Nashville on March 27, where a former student fatally shot three children and three adults, police have said.
Days later, Tennessee Republican Reps. Bud Hulsey, Gino Bulso and Andrew Farmer sponsored the expulsion resolutions, arguing the three Democratic lawmakers “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
Jones, the first lawmaker expelled when House members voted to adopt HR65 Thursday, called the resolution “a spectacle” and “a lynch mob assembled to not lynch me, but our democratic process.”
“We called for you all to ban assault weapons and you respond with an assault on democracy,” Jones said during his 20-minute opening statement.
Following the adoption of the expulsion resolution, Jones said his ouster set a “precedent that any member who voices dissent or opposition can be expelled from the legislative body.”
“Today is a very dangerous day for America,” he said in a hallway interview after the vote.
Pearson, who sang “Power to the People” and quoted from the Bible during his opening statement, called the resolution to remove him an “injustice against the First Amendment.”
“Speaking up on behalf of the last, the lost, the least, those who’ve been left out, those who’ve been ignored, those who’ve been silenced but refuse to be silent anymore, that does not deserve expulsion from this House,” he said before he was expelled from the chamber Thursday evening.
During her hearing, Johnson, the sole lawmaker to survive the expulsion resolutions, denied allegations that she “shouted” from the well during the demonstration last week. But she maintained that she joined the protest, breaching House decorum, in a needed effort to stir “good trouble.”
“My friends in school all called me ‘Little Miss Law and Order’ because I’m a rule-follower, and I know that rules sometimes have to be broken and sometimes you have to get in good trouble,” she said.
“I may have broken a rule, but the words in this document are false and I did what I was compelled to do based on speaking for the voters in my district who were begging me to bring this issue forward,” she later added, gesturing at HR64, which would have expelled her from the legislative body.
Following the votes, Republican Speaker Cameron Sexton, who previously accused the trio of attempting to incite an insurrection, said he personally voted for all three Democratic members to be expelled.
“I think what you heard on the House floor today is that those members took away the voice of this chamber for 45 minutes when they were on the House floor, leading the protest to those and disrupting the business that we were doing,” he said in an interview with NewsNation. “What I will say is there are consequences for action.”
The three Republican lawmakers who introduced the expulsion resolutions, Hulsey, Bulso and Farmer, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Earlier in the Thursday session, the legislature passed HB322, a bill that requires schools to implement a number of safety plans and security systems, including requiring locked doors and active shooter training for school security guards, over the objections of the three members who faced expulsion.
“This bill is not about school safety,” Jones said, adding the move to “make our schools militarized zones” is borne out of refusal “to address the real issue, which is easy access to military grade weapons.”
Johnson, a former teacher, decried the possibility of “gun battles at our schoolhouse door,” while Pearson argued that “the root cause that each of us have to address is this gun violence epidemic.”
“We don’t need a solution that says if you don’t lock a door or get someone with a gun, we need a solution that says people shouldn’t be going to schools and to houses and to neighborhoods with weapons of war,” Pearson added.
President Joe Biden said in a statement that the move to oust the lawmakers was “shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent,” arguing Republicans in Tennessee were focused on punishing lawmakers who “stood in solidarity with students and families and helped lift their voices” rather than pushing for gun control reforms.
Since the Civil War, the Tennessee state House has voted only twice to expel a member.
But the effort to expel the three Tennessee lawmakers is one of several recent moves by state legislatures to penalize lawmakers of underrepresented backgrounds taking a stand on progressive causes.
For example, Oklahoma Republicans removed the state’s only nonbinary legislator from House committees after the lawmaker provided refuge to a transgender rights activist.
As of Thursday, the trio of Democratic lawmakers said they have already lost ID access to the state Capitol and been stripped of any committee assignments.
But Pearson and Jones, flanked by their fellow Democratic lawmakers as they heard the results of their expulsion votes, said they remain undeterred in fighting for their constituents.
“We’re gonna keep fighting for people in Nashville and Memphis, across the state of Tennessee and across the United States of America who want justice. We deserve it. This is our birthright. Our inheritance is not just some pieces of paper and constitutions and rules,” Pearson said in a hallway interview following his expulsion. “It is the advocacy and the ability to protest for what is right and to create laws and to advocate for laws that make justice more possible.”
Jones addressed his Republican colleagues directly during his hearing.
“My prayer to you, is that even if you expel me that you still act to address the crisis of mass shootings because if I’m expelled from here, I’ll be back out there with the people, every week, demanding that you act,” he said.
ABC News’ Nakylah Carter contributed to this report.