Justin Pearson: Black Tennessee lawmaker reinstated after 'undemocratic' expulsion vote

Legislator joins colleague Justin Jones, who was also reappointed after rebuke from state Republicans

Justin Pearson celebrates with supporters after being reinstated to the the Tennessee House of Representatives by Shelby County officials. AP
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Tennessee state legislator Justin Pearson was reinstated to the State House on Wednesday after he was expelled for taking part in an anti-gun protest following a deadly school shooting in Nashville.

Shelby County officials in Memphis, Tennessee, voted 7-0 to reappoint Mr Pearson to represent the county in the Tennessee legislature.

“The message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can’t expel hope. You can’t expel justice,” Mr Pearson said. “You can’t expel our voice. And you sure can’t expel our fight.”

The Republican-held legislature voted to expel Mr Pearson and Justin Jones, another black Democratic state representative, last week to punish them for participating in a protest demanding gun reform on the House floor.

The protest was one of several demonstrations at the statehouse, taking place days after three children and three staff members were killed at the Covenant School in the state's capital.

Gloria Johnson, another Democrat, squeaked by in a close vote over whether she would keep her own seat, bringing the issue of race in the expulsion decisions to the forefront, as Ms Johnson is white.

The legislature's expulsion votes captured national attention, with President Joe Biden calling it “undemocratic”.

Vice President Kamala Harris made a trip to Nashville to meet the three Democratic legislators last week.

“A democracy says you don’t silence the people, you do not stifle the people, you do not turn off their microphones when they are speaking about the importance of life and liberty,” Ms Harris said during her visit.

Mr Pearson is expected to be sworn back into the State House on Thursday.

His colleague Mr Jones was quickly sworn in after a march to the statehouse on Monday.

Updated: April 13, 2023, 10:30 AM