Justin J. Pearson: Shelby County Board of Commissioners votes to reinstate expelled lawmaker

The commission voted unanimously.

April 12, 2023, 3:57 PM

Less than a week after being ousted by the Tennessee House of Representatives by the Republican supermajority, District 86 representative Justin J. Pearson has been reinstated by a unanimous vote by the Shelby County Commission.

Pearson’s reinstatement comes just two days after Nashville’s Metropolitan Council unanimously voted to reinstate Rep. Justin Jones, the other representative who was expelled last week for his involvement in a gun control rally. Jones will serve as an interim legislator until a special election is called.

“Nashville thought they could silence democracy," Pearson said after the commission's vote. "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 ‘shol can’t expel our fight. We look forward to continuing to fight. Continuing to advocate until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Let's get back to work."

Mickell Lowery, chairman of the Shelby County Commission, announced the special meeting Sunday evening.

Lowery shared he believed the Thursday expulsion of Pearson “was conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods,” after Pearson, Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson violated the chamber’s rules of decorum by participating in last month’s protest.

Johnson evaded expulsion by one vote.

“I am amongst the over 68,000 citizens who were stripped of having a representative at the State due to the unfortunate outcome of the State Assembly’s vote,” he said in the statement. “I am certain that the leaders in the State Capitol understand the importance of this action on behalf of the affected citizens here in Shelby County, Tennessee and that we stand ready to work in concert with them to assist with only positive outcomes going forward.”

At the March 30 protest at the Capitol prompted by the Nashville Covenant School shooting three days prior, Jones and Pearson participated and were seen using a bullhorn leading to chants on the House floor, causing a brief interruption in legislative business. Johnson participated also, but was not seen using the bullhorn.

PHOTO: An aerial view of the Tennessee State Capitol, in Nashville, April 11, 2023.
An aerial view of the Tennessee State Capitol after state representative Justin Jones was reinstated, following his expulsion along with fellow state representative Justin Pearson by the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives over their rule-breaking protest on the House floor on March 30, in Nashville, Tenn., April 11, 2023.
Cheney Orr/Reuters

A group of Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Raphael Warnock, wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, urging the Department of Justice to investigate last week's expulsion of Tennessee Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson.

The Senators want the Department to determine "whether any violations of the United States Constitution or federal civil rights laws have occurred, and to take all steps necessary to uphold the democratic integrity of our nation's legislative bodies."

"This was a tragedy that happened at the Covenant School in Nashville. But instead of addressing the tragedy, the Republican super-majority in Tennessee decided that using our First Amendment right to listen to the thousands of protesters deserved expulsion,” Pearson said during an ABC News group sit down interview with Jones and Johnson on Monday.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners decision comes after an over one mile community march on Monday from The National Civil Rights Museum to the County Commission in support of gun violence prevention and support for the reinstatement of Pearson.

“We need to lift up these amazing voices of these young people," Johnson said prior to the march. "We need a multiracial, multi-generational organization in the Tennessee legislature. And these voices are critical. We need to welcome these young voices and not keep them down. These young people are passionate, they're smart, they understand the issues and how they affect every single person in their district. And I am so honored. The teacher has become the student and I'm learning from these young men, and I look forward to learning for a long long time.”

PHOTO: Expelled State Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, delivers remarks outside the state Capitol, April 10, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.
Expelled State Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, delivers remarks outside the state Capitol, April 10, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Pearson was expelled the previous week over his role in a gun-control protest on the House floor in the aftermath of a deadly school shooting.
George Walker IV/AP

"None of this is easy, especially in a state so heavily gerrymandered and so anti-democratic as Tennessee, but our ancestors faced worse and they prevailed. So will we, as long as we stay in the streets, in the halls of power and in the front of the chamber together. Our values of democracy, freedom, equality, safety from gun violence and well-being for all are the majority values in our district, our state and our nation. We are the majority," Pearson said in a press release Wednesday after being reinstated. "Thank you for bringing me back to the People’s House where we can accomplish great things together. We are the new Tennessee."