A majority of members of the Nashville Metropolitan Council will vote to reinstate Justin Jones to the Tennessee state Legislature after he was expelled from the House of Representatives on Thursday over his protests on the chamber floor against gun violence.
Twenty-three members of the 40-seat Metropolitan Council confirmed to NBC News or on social media that they plan to vote to reinstate Jones to the Legislature. The council, which currently has 39 members, will hold a special meeting Monday to discuss an interim replacement for Jones' seat. Vice Mayor Jim Shulman said he expects the council will take action to suspend the rules at the meeting to vote on a successor to fill Jones' seat instead of holding a monthlong nomination period. In interviews with NBC News, members expressed outrage at Jones' expulsion and said hundreds of constituents have reached out to demand that he be reinstated. “They removed the voice from 140,000 people who voted for them," said Councilmember Burkley Allen. "It’s a terrible precedent to set, that we disagree with you and you’ve disrupted our House proceedings and therefore we’re expelling you. That’s not the way democracy works.” Jones and two other Democratic state lawmakers led a protest on the House floor last week to call for stricter gun safety measures after a mass shooting at a private elementary school in Nashville. Jones and Pearson used a bullhorn to lead chants and spoke without being recognized. Tennessee House leaders called the protest an “insurrection.” But Nashville Councilmember Brett Withers pushed back on the characterization, saying claims that the protest was an insurrection were “unfounded.” Jones was expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives in a 72-25 party-line vote on Thursday, and the other ousted member, Justin Pearson, was booted in a vote of 69-26 later in the day. Rep. Gloria Johnson was also up for expulsion but clung to her seat. Johnson, who is white, said the disparity “might have to do with the color of my skin,” The Tennessean reported. Both Jones and Pearson are Black. Democratic state Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville gestures during a vote on his expulsion from the state legislature in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday.Seth Herald / Getty ImagesUnder the Tennessee State Constitution, an interim successor can be appointed by the legislative body of the expelled member's county until a special election is held. For Jones, that is Nashville. The Nashville council, which is the legislative body of the city and Davidson County’s consolidated government, is officially a nonpartisan body, but Councilmember Russ Bradford said most members are Democrats. Pearson is from Memphis, and Shelby County Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery did not immediately respond to NBC's request for comment on the process for Pearson's potential replacement or reinstatement. In an interview with MSNBC, Jones said Thursday "was a very grave day for democracy and a very dangerous precedent was set not just for Tennessee, but for the nation.” "This is attacking democracy on so many different levels, and then to refuse to seat us after expelling us, I mean, this — this is saying that Tennessee is on the border or is already faced with authoritarianism," Jones said. In the wake of Jones' expulsion, Councilmember Bob Mendes said he heard an "outcry" from constituents who want to see the representative reinstated. Several hundred residents had reached out to him as of Friday morning, he said. Councilmember Erin Evans, who represents a purple part of the county, said even her more conservative constituents have said Jones' expulsion was an "egregious overstep by the statehouse.” Other representatives pushed back on the punishment not matching the incursion. "No elected official in the State of Tennessee has ever been expelled for breaking decorum rules," Councilmember Jeff Syracuse said in an email to NBC News. "Expulsion was an egregious act of disenfranchising the voters who duly elected State Rep Jones." Councilmember Ginny Welsch told NBC in an email, "I think the actions taken by the Tennessee legislature are blatantly fascist, and racist, need to be called out as such." Members of the council also criticized the gun laws that the representatives were protesting following the mass shooting, in which six people were killed, including three 9-year-olds.
"'We don't know anything about you, whether you're qualified to have a gun or not, just have at it,'" Councilmember Joy Styles said, criticizing lax gun laws. "Welcome to the state of Tennessee."
Vice President Kamala Harris, who tweeted that the state GOP lawmakers' move was "undemocratic and dangerous," will travel to Nashville on Friday to meet with Democratic legislators, her press secretary said.