Ousted Tennessee Democrat Justin Pearson of Memphis is expected to be appointed back to the state House on Wednesday almost a week after he and his Democratic colleague, Rep. Justin Jones of Nashville, were expelled by the Republican-led House for participating in a peaceful gun protest from the floor of the chamber.
Monday evening — just four days after his expulsion — the Nashville Metro Council unanimously voted to return Jones to the state House in a 36–0 vote.
Now the same is expected for Pearson.
The Shelby County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to vote in Memphis to reinstate Pearson to the legislature on Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Democrats hold a 9-4 majority on the 13-seat board. But two of the Democrats, Commissioner Britney Thornton of District 10 and Commissioner Michael Whaley of District 13 told local NBC affiliate Action 5 News that they are out of the country and will not be able to vote.
That means Pearson’s fate will be decided by 11 commissioners. Several Democrats — including Chairman Mickell Lowery — have indicated their support for returning Pearson to his seat. But the rest haven’t spoken publicly on the matter.
Despite their silence, Pearson’s constituents and supporters have been loud about the expulsion. Several groups — including the Shelby County Democratic Party, Shelby County Young Democrats, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee, Black Lifestyle Advocates for Culture and Knowledge and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition — are holding a community rally ahead of the Wednesday vote.
Pearson and Jones — two young, Black men — were expelled from their elected position after they participated in a protest over lax gun laws in the House chamber in the wake of the Nashville school shooting that left six people — three children and three school personnel — dead.
During the protest, Jones, Pearson and Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville — an older white woman, who survived the GOP-led attempt to oust the trio — joined a group of demonstrators, made up mostly of teachers, children and parents holding signs. The group packed the Capitol building and the House gallery and chanted, calling for gun control legislation. Jones, Johnson and Pearson cheered on the protestors from the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn.
In response, state Republicans claimed the lawmakers in question “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions” and voted to oust Jones and Pearson, but Johnson survived the vote. Republicans claimed it was because she was more calm and didn’t use the bullhorn, but the move has been roundly criticized as a racist punitive action against two young, Black men.
The day after his expulsion, Pearson said he hoped that Shelby County commissioners would appoint him back to his seat, adding he knew many were “upset about the anti-democratic behavior of this White supremacist-led state legislature.”