If ‘Tennessee 3’ Are Expelled Thursday, ‘Chilling’

Today’s the day: Tennessee’s state House votes Thursday on Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones, and Justin Pearson, and the three Democratic state representatives are expected to be expelled from the chamber. Republicans hold a supermajority, and are looking to boot the three Democrats due to their unauthorized House-floor protest in support of gun control last week, in the wake of the shooting at the Covenant School that left three children and three adults dead. The move is historic—only two other representatives have been expelled from Tennessee’s state House since the Civil War era—and rare in general, per Politico, which lists a few examples from other states. The site notes that most expulsions come after lawmakers are accused of serious ethical problems or are convicted of crimes.

Just 20 lawmakers have ever been expelled from the US Congress, and most of those expulsions took place in the 1800s. “Expulsion is an extreme measure that is used very infrequently in our state and our country because it strips voters of representation by the people they elected,” says a Tennessee ACLU exec. As the Tennesseean reports, should Johnson, Jones, and Pearson be expelled, a precedent could be set: Never before has a member been expelled for a rules violation, which is the charge here, but should this move go forward, it could become more common in the future. Democrats say laying such groundwork is dangerous: “Normally, expulsion from a legislature is an extreme sanction that involves indictment and conviction of a crime or a severe ethical violation,” one expert says. “Even when an ethical violation is incurred, lesser penalties of a reprimand or censure would be assessed in most cases.”

Also, there’s normally an ethics committee investigation first; there wasn’t in this case. If it goes through, this move “will echo across the country. I think it will have a chilling effect on all states where there’s supermajorities or very red states,” Johnson says. The Tennessee Democratic Party is fundraising to support the so-called “Tennessee Three” in special elections should they be expelled, and the three have vowed they’ll be back (they can’t be expelled twice for the same offense). “This is a political lynching. But we will not back down,” Jones said. In related news, Jones filed a police report Monday night after a scuffle with one of his fellow representatives, a Republican, whom he accuses of pushing him and grabbing his phone. Police say the incident is under investigation. (Read more Tennessee stories.)