The expulsion that backfired in Tennessee

Rep. Justin Pearson, Rep. Justin Jones and Rep. Gloria Johnson surrounded by a crowd
Expelled Reps. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), from left, Justin Jones (D-Nashville) and Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) are recognized by the audience at Fisk University on Friday in Nashville.
(George Walker IV / Associated Press)

A week ago, much of the country did not know Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, lawmakers in the Tennessee House of Representatives. But their expulsion by the Republican-led chamber catapulted the pair to the national limelight and made them the latest symbols of local democracy and the overreach that often occurs when one party has a supermajority.

The Justins were expelled from the Tennessee statehouse after they participated in a protest on the House floor calling for the lawmaking body to enact new laws to address gun violence. The protest came days after the state was thrown into shock and mourning following the killing of three children and three adults at a church-run school in Nashville, the latest innocent casualties of an intractable, uniquely American problem.

Hello, my name is Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu. I cover national politics for the L.A. Times. Today, we look at the expulsion of two Black lawmakers from the Tennessee House.

New heroes

While the expulsions were meant to punish the lawmakers, they had quite the opposite effect, delivering widespread national and global support. President Biden telephoned and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Nashville to show support.

It didn’t help Tennessee Republicans that a third lawmaker — who is white and was part of the protest — escaped expulsion, albeit by one vote, while her Black counterparts were removed. The House Republican leadership denied race had anything to do with it, but the optics were not lost on many — including Rep. Gloria Johnson herself.

“Well, I think it’s pretty clear. I’m a 60-year-old white woman, and they are two young Black men,” she told CNN in an interview.

By this week, Tennessee Republicans were backpedaling. On Monday, Jones was reinstated after the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to send him back to represent District 52. Pearson is expected to be reinstated too on Wednesday. However, the pair will still have to face a special election in the coming months.

It is the latest example of how Republicans have tried to use their supermajorities in state legislatures to push the bounds of the party’s agenda only to have it backfire or rejected by voters. The same has happened to Democrats in places they control by large margins.


In the last midterms, voters in Kentucky, a reliable Republican-leaning state, rejected an antiabortion ballot measure proposed by the state’s GOP-led legislature.

It followed Kansas, another majority Republican state, where voters also balked at a proposal that would have allowed the Republican-led house to ban or further tighten its antiabortion laws.

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The latest from the campaign trail

— Biden gave his clearest indication yet that he will seek reelection in 2024. He told NBC on the sidelines of the White House Easter Egg Roll that he is “planning on running” again but he was “not prepared to announce yet.” He has so far not given a timeline on when that announcement would be made.

— Biden has selected Chicago as the host for the 2024 Democratic National Convention. The decision to bring the party to the Midwest’s largest city is in keeping with the president’s desire to consolidate gains made by Democrats in the region in recent elections. Chicago edged out New York City and Atlanta, the latter of which many had thought would be chosen because of Georgia’s role in sending Biden to the White House. (Maybe not so coincidentally, Chicago is also the political home to the still very popular former President Obama.)

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The view from Washington

— Manhattan Dist. Atty. Alvin Bragg has sued Rep. Jim Jordan in federal court in a bid to stop congressional subpoenas filed in response to Bragg’s prosecution of former President Trump on charges of falsifying New York business records. The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee has issued requests for documents and testimony from Bragg’s office pertaining to the case. On April 17, the committee plans to hold an off-site hearing in Manhattan about crime, bringing the fight to Bragg’s doorstep.


— Justice Clarence Thomas said he will disclose some future luxury trips and gifts he receives after a ProPublica report revealed he and his wife, Ginni, had enjoyed such trips paid for by a wealthy Republican donor. It appears that the Supreme Court justice stopped disclosing the gifts he had received from Harlan Crow after the L.A. Times reported about such gifts in 2004. The recent revelation and absence of transparency cast renewed scrutiny on whether judges should face tougher disclosure regulations, Times staff writer David Savage, who was part of the initial article 20 years ago, reported.

The view from California

— California will stockpile an emergency supply of 2 million abortion pills in response to renewed threats to access because of a federal judge’s decision in Texas, Times staff writers Hannah Wiley and Julia Wick reported. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the stockpiling of misoprostol, which was not the subject of the judge’s decision, was “to ensure that Californians continue to have access to safe reproductive health treatments.”

— The unfurling of an antisemitic banner on Southern California’s 405 Freeway was the catalyst for Doug Emhoff, husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, to take a leading role in the administration’s efforts to counter the rise in anti-Jewish sentiment. Emhoff, the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president, is coming out of his wife’s shadow to emerge as an ambassador for his faith and heritage, Times staff writer Courtney Subramanian reports.

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