Tennessee Democrats Are Facing Expulsion From The House
Tennessee Democrats’ Gun Control Protest: Two young Black Democratic representatives for Tennessee, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, were expelled by Republicans on Thursday. These representatives sought to protest for stricter gun control measures after the recent Nashville shooting which “killed three 9-year-old children and staff members” . Hundreds of protestors were led onto the House floor by Jones and Pearson. The demonstration was peaceful and “at no point was there violence” says Justin Jones .
In response to the protest, Republicans sought to eliminate the Democrats “and squelch their speech in the chamber” . The House vote was 72-25 to remove Jones and 69-26 to remove Pearson. Interestingly, another Democrat, Gloria Johnson, a white woman, was involved in the protests and was not removed by the House.  This prompted racial allegations from Jones and Pearson which sparked arguments on both Democratic and Republican sides.  It is extremely necessary to address this aspect of the debate. It is not uncharacteristic for decisions to be made with racist intent within the United States, given our history with systemic racism. Hence, it is imperative that lawmaking officials re-assert the viability of Jones and Pearson’s positions as Democratic representatives within the House.
Legal Precedents: An important question to ask is whether the Republicans’ actions were constitutionally legitimate. Biden called their actions on Twitter, “‘shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent’” . If we want to better understand this legal situation surrounding free speech, we can apply the case Virginia v. Black (2002). In this case, Barry Black was convicted of burning a cross on the property of a highway in Virginia. He objected to his conviction and argued that his First Amendment rights to free speech were being violated. The state of Virginia had a cross-burning statute in place which made it “a felony ‘for any person…, with the intent of intimidating any person or group…, to burn…a cross on the property of another, a highway or other public place’” .
The Virginia Supreme Court held that the cross-burning statute was unconstitutional, echoing the lower court’s decision, the SCOTUS held that cross burning could not be considered as “evidence of intent to intimidate” . The conclusion of this case was derived from the basis of the rights to freedom of speech and expression under the Constitution.  Similarly, this holding could be applied to this legal situation. Pearson and Jones clearly had no intention of harm and were exercising their rights to free speech when engaging in a gun control protest.
Implications: What does this mean for our democracy moving forward? Removing Jones and Pearson from the House opens the door for other states to take the same action. It is also important to consider how the actions taken by Republicans in this case deprived the Democrats of their constitutional rights to free speech.  Based on the court case discussed above, it is necessary to take such action and re-appoint Jones and Pearson to their positions as Democratic representatives for Tennessee. If we ignore this situation it could lead to the downfall of our democracy.