By McKenzie Ward
The Republican-controlled Tennessee state House of Representatives attempted to expel three Democratic members of the House on April 6 after they allegedly violated the chamber's rules of decorum by participating in a gun control protest at the state capitol the week prior. The gun control protests in Tennessee began after six people, including three children, were murdered at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee on March 27, 2023.
During the protest at the state capitol, the three representatives halted proceedings and led chants using a bullhorn as legislators instituted a recess.
Two of the Democratic members, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, were expelled from the Tennessee State House of Representatives. The third Democratic member, Gloria Johnson, kept her seat with just one vote.
Jones and Pearson were later reinstated into their old seats after unanimous votes by their districts’ councils and were sworn in again. The appointments are interim and both men plan to run in special elections for the seats later this year, according to PBS.
While both men regained their seats, this event is beyond scary and must serve as a wake-up call for the entire country.
Our democracy is in danger.
This vote is just one example of the Republican Party’s effort to limit the voices of those whose beliefs do not align with the GOP.
Other examples include Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which imposes a ban on classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades, and the party’s attempts to tighten voting laws that target college-aged students after a majority of Gen-Z voters voted for Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm election.
Not only was this expulsion an attempt to silence the three representatives, but it was an attempt to silence each person who voted for Pearson, Jones, or Johnson as their representative.
An incident similar to what happened in Tennessee happened in Georgia to Julian Bond. In 1965, Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.
A few months after Bond took office, he endorsed a press release by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which criticized the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Bond’s endorsement made many members of the Georgia House of Representatives upset and after a House hearing, Bond’s fellow representatives, led by Rep. James “Sloppy” Floyd, voted 184-12 to bar Bond from being seated, according to the First Amendment Encyclopedia.
Bond filed a lawsuit in federal court, citing that his First Amendment rights had been violated as he was expelled because of his political speech. The lower court rejected his claim and cited that Bond’s free-speech rights as a citizen were limited to a degree by his taking a seat in the Georgia House of Representatives and the mandatory oath, according to the First Amendment Encyclopedia.
Bond appealed the lower court’s ruling and the case made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The SCOTUS in Bond v Floyd ruled in favor of Bond and SCOTUS Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that “while the State has an interest in requiring its legislators to swear to a belief in constitutional processes of government, surely the oath gives it no interest in limiting its legislators’ capacity to discuss their views of local or national policy.”
What happened to Julian Bond in 1966 by those who were afraid of people whose beliefs directly challenged their own, is what is happening in 2023.
The Republican Party is not only silencing citizens on topics such as reproductive health, LGBTQ+ issues, and race, but they are targeting the people who we have voted to represent us.
In my opinion, Pearson’s and Jones’ First Amendment rights were violated when the Republicans of the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel them, and those who voted in favor of their expulsion must be held accountable.
We have all heard the saying, “History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce.”
We must acknowledge that history is repeating itself right now and that our democracy is in much greater danger than most of our country is willing to admit.