A group of Senate Democrats — including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — sent a letter to the Justice Department on Wednesday demanding they investigate the recent expulsions of two Black Democratic Tennessee legislators, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who protested gun violence on the floor of their state House.
“We write to urge the U.S. Department of Justice to use all available legal authorities to investigate the expulsions of Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson from the Tennessee General Assembly, the state legislature of Tennessee, to determine whether any violations of the United States Constitution or federal civil rights laws have occurred, and to take all steps necessary to uphold the democratic integrity of our nation’s legislative bodies,” the letter read.
The letter — signed by Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) — comes almost a week after Pearson and Jones were expelled by the Republican-led House for participating in a peaceful gun protest from the floor of the chamber in the wake of the Nashville school shooting that left six people — three children and three school personnel — dead.
During the Thursday protest, Jones, Pearson and Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville — an older white woman, who survived the GOP’s attempt to oust the trio — joined a group of demonstrators who packed the Capitol building and the House gallery and chanted, calling for gun restrictions. Jones, Johnson and Pearson cheered on the protestors from the front of the House chamber, with some of them using a bullhorn.
Both of the ousted lawmakers were appointed back to their seats as interim House members this week. A special election will be held to fill Pearson and Jones’ seats permanently as their assignments to their own seats are currently temporary. Both are eligible to run for reelection but they will once again need to win an election to formally return to their seats for the rest of their two-year term.
In the letter, Democrats emphasized that Jones and Pearson did not engage in any violent or illegal conduct, adding “silencing legislators on the basis of their views or their participation in protected speech or protest is antithetical to American democracy and values.”
The senators also said the decision appears to have been made “at least partially on the basis of race.”
“We cannot allow states to cite minor procedural violations as pretextual excuses to remove democratically-elected representatives, especially when these expulsions may have been at least partially on the basis of race,” lawmakers wrote. “Allowing such behavior sets a dangerous—and undemocratic—precedent.”
“We are deeply concerned that without immediate action by the U.S. Department of Justice, antidemocratic actors will only be emboldened, and we will see more troubling and more frequent incidents meant to unravel our democratic fabric,” the letter read.
Read the letter here: