Justin Pearson, a Tennessee Democrat who was ousted from elected office by his Republican House colleagues for protesting gun violence in the state Capitol, was reinstated to his seat in the Tennessee House on Wednesday.
In a unanimous vote, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners sent Pearson back to the House in a decisive rebuke of the Tennessee GOP’s extraordinary move to expel him, along with another Democratic colleague, last week.
Pearson delivered a powerful speech right after the reinstatement vote, rallying his supporters and sending a message to the lawmakers who voted to expel him.
“What we have shown here in Shelby County, what we have shown here in Memphis, Tennessee, with my fiancé, my brothers, my family, my parents, my family here, is that we do not speak alone,” Pearson said. “We speak together. We fight together.
“And so the message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can’t expel hope. You can’t expel justice. You can’t expel our voice. And you sure can’t expel our fight,” he said to cheers.
“We look forward to continuing to fight, continuing to advocate, until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” Pearson continued. “Let’s get back to work.”
Pearson, who represents the Memphis area, and another Democrat, Justin Jones, who represents Nashville, were expelled from the House on Thursday for protesting gun violence after three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed in yet another mass shooting in Tennessee. Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Democrat who also participated in the protest, survived expulsion by a single vote. Pearson and Jones are young Black men serving their first term in the House; Johnson is a white woman in her fourth term.
Pearson’s and Jones’s expulsions — which effectively disenfranchised approximately 140,000 constituents, mostly Black and brown, in the two districts that elected them — were widely criticized by Tennesseans and lawmakers.
Republicans had accused them of a grave breach of decorum in the House by protesting peacefully, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton went so far as to liken their actions to the violent Jan. 6 insurrection, even though there was no violence, no property damage, and no arrests.
Jones was reinstated to his seat by the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County on Monday. Surrounded by a swarm of supporters, Jones then marched back to the Statehouse and was sworn into office on the steps of the Capitol.