Tennessee lawmakers’ expulsion is a threat to democracy

            When Republicans voted to expel Democratic Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the Tennessee House of Representatives, they set a dangerous precedent for future lawmakers and our democracy. Even with Jones and Pearson’s recent reappointment to their seats, there is no question that their expulsion will go down in history as a threat to democracy. 

            Only two times before since the Civil War era has the Tennessee House expelled a representative from their seat. On the first occasion, the member was expelled when they were found guilty of accepting a bribe while in office. The second expulsion occurred for a different representative over sexual assault allegations. 

The reasons behind these expulsions make sense; the punishment fits the crime. Jones and Pearson’s expulsion, however, was a severe overreaction to their actions. The two representatives, alongside Representative Gloria Johnson, led protests for gun reform following the mass shooting at The Covenant School, an elementary school in Nashville. While taking the demonstration to the House floor may have been disruptive to the session, it is not an act that requires a punishment as extreme as expulsion.

Although the three representatives were up for expulsion, only Jones and Pearson—the two young, Black lawmakers—were voted out. The message here is clear: the voices of young, non-white individuals matter little in comparison to their older, white counterparts. Johnson, a sixty-year-old white woman, was saved from expulsion by one vote. 65 members voted to oust her, whereas Jones and Pearson received 75 and 69 votes respectively in favor of expulsion. If they all are guilty of the same act, why should Johnson not be expelled? 

Clearly, the fact that Jones and Pearson are both young Black men is the reason they were expelled while Johnson was not. They pose a threat to the Republican majority in ways that Johnson does not. Their expulsion was a method of silencing not only their voices, but the voices of their constituents. Simply put, removing young voices, especially the voices of young minorities, from places of power when they have done nothing but amplify the voices of the many who voted for them, is undemocratic.

A punishment as extreme as expulsion over a protest that, at worst, was a disturbance to session sets a dangerous precedent. The protest was nowhere near that of the January 6 insurrection, as some Republicans claim it is. There was no violence; the representatives and protesters were justly demanding gun reform at a time in which it is greatly needed. If Jones and Pearson can be expelled over something like this, what other actions may cause representatives to be unjustly expelled from their seats in the future? 

Jones and Pearson’s reappointment to their seats is important; however, it does not take away from the fact that their expulsion was unjust and undemocratic. The precedent it sets is dangerous for any party to do in the future, and it is a threat to our democracy.

The fact that Jones, Pearson and Johnson faced the threat of expulsion over a gun reform protest is an unprecedented event, and it shines light on another important topic: how desensitized we have become to unprecedented events. We are living through so many things that have never happened before—a global pandemic, an insurrection on the United States capital, a higher rate of gun violence and mass shootings than ever before—that the impact of these events is becoming lesser and lesser.

Two weeks after the school shooting in Nashville, there was a mass shooting at a bank in Louisville, Kentucky. It seemed like the shooting received major media coverage for one day before it was brushed over and we moved on. Gun violence in the United States is almost normalized at this point. There is a never-ending cycle of hearing about a mass shooting, lamenting it for a few days, and then moving on not long after when we hear about the next one. 

There is no doubt about it, living in “unprecedented times” is stressful and difficult; however, we cannot let it desensitize us to what is happening in the world. It should push us to demand our representatives to listen and advocate on our behalf to make change. Furthermore, representatives should not be expelled for amplifying the voices of their constituents. It’s a question of democracy—something we need now more than ever before. 

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