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Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones returns to the chamber following unanimous vote by Nashville council to reinstate him

Ousted Tennessee lawmaker reinstated
Ousted Tennessee lawmaker reinstated 01:56

Expelled state Rep. Justin Jones was reinstated to the Tennessee House in a unanimous decision by Nashville's Metro Council less than a week after he was kicked out for participating in a protest against gun violence. 

Following the vote and with a raised fist in the air, Jones walked arm-in-arm with fellow Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson into the House chamber. The pair were met with applause.

"I want to welcome the people back to the people's house," he said as he addressed the House. "I'm hopeful for the days ahead for Tennessee, not because of the actions of this body, but because of the actions of the people out there, the thousands gathered outside this chamber right now, who are calling for something better.

"We will continue to be your voice here," he said. "And no expulsion, no attempt to silence us will stop us, but it will only galvanize and strengthen our movement. And we will continue to show up in the people's house."

Tennessee Reps. Justin Jones and Gloria Johnson in the Tennessee House chamber
Tennessee Rep. Justin Jones walks into the House chamber with Tennessee Rep. Gloria Johnson on April 10, 2023. Jones was appointed to represent District 52 by the Metro Nashville City Council earlier in the day after being expelled the previous week for using a bullhorn to shout support for pro-gun control protesters in the House chamber. George Walker IV / AP

A Republican supermajority consisting of two-thirds of the Tennessee House voted last Thursday to expel Jones and fellow Democratic Rep. Justin Pearson, who are both Black. Johnson, who also participated in the protest, survived by one vote and was not expelled.

Demonstrations were expected at the statehouse on Monday, when the House was called back into session. 

In an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Jones said they will "continue to fight for our constituents." 

Nashville's Metro Council, the legislative body tasked with appointing a replacement, called a special meeting last week to fill the vacancy. Several Metro council members told CBS Nashville affiliate WTVF that they wanted to appoint Jones to return to his seat in the state legislature.

Councilwoman Delishia Porterfield, who ran against Jones for the House seat he was expelled from, told WTVF that she's standing with the will of the people and will be voting for Jones to return.

"He is duly elected by the community, we have to uphold their wishes, and I 100% believe our body will vote to put my representative back in office," Porterfield said before the vote.

Pearson, who represents Memphis, could be reappointed Wednesday by the Shelby County Commission, which is set to vote in a meeting then.

But even if both are reinstated this week, it will only be on an interim basis. Following the rules of the expulsion, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, then has to sign what's called a writ of election to set the dates for a future special election. Expulsions by the House are very rare — just two people have been expelled from the chamber since the Civil War. 

The Tennessee House moved to expel Jones, Pearson and Johnson after the three participated in a protest on March 30 in the state Capitol for stricter gun laws in the wake of a shooting at a Nashville school on March 27 that left three children and three adults dead. 

Lawmakers said Johnson was spared the same fate as Jones and Pearson because she did not take a bullhorn and address the crowd, among other reasons. But Johnson, who is White, said she survived the vote because she is a "60-year-old White woman and they are two young Black men."

"I think our presence as young Black voices for our constituencies, people who will not bow down, those who will not be conformed, that's what put a target on us the day we walked in the Tennessee General Assembly," Jones told NBC on Sunday. "I mean, this is the first time in Tennessee history we had a completely partisan expulsion by predominantly White caucus — all but one member of their caucus is white out of 75 members — and we are the two youngest Black lawmakers in Tennessee."

The battle at the Tennessee statehouse has received national attention. Vice President Kamala Harris made a last-minute trip to Nashville on Friday to meet with Jones, Pearson and Johnson, who are being referred to by some as the "Tennessee Three." Harris received wild applause and several standing ovations as she told a crowd at Nashville's historically Black Fisk University that Jones, Pearson and Johnson were being, in her words, silenced and stifled as they fought "for the safety of our children." 

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