Justin Jones, the Democratic Tennessee lawmaker who was expelled from the state Legislature on Thursday, said he was trying to protect all children from the scourge of gun violence—including the children of the Republican colleagues who subsequently voted to oust him—while vowing to keep fighting for gun control.
Addressing the Republican lawmakers just before the 72-25 party-line vote, Jones (D-52) said, “To my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I want to say that you have the votes to do what you’re gonna do today but I wanna let you know that when I walked up to this well I was fighting for your children and grandchildren too.”
Tennessee House Republicans targeted Jones, as well as state Reps. Gloria Johnson (D-90) and Justin Pearson after they used a bullhorn to lead chants supporting gun control legislation on the chamber floor Monday while thousands of Nashville-area students rallied outside following the March 27 mass shooting at Covenant School that left three 9-year-old students, three staff members, and the shooter dead.
After voting to expel Jones, GOP lawmakers called a vote on a resolution to oust Johnson. Although 65 Republicans voted in favor of the measure, that was not enough to reach the two-thirds majority required. A vote on the resolution to remove Pearson is expected later on Thursday evening.
Speaking before the vote to remove him from office, Jones said:
To those here who will cast a vote for expulsion, I was fighting for your children too, to live free from the terror of school shootings and mass shootings. When I walked up to this well last Thursday, I was thinking about the thousands of students who were outside demanding that we do something. In fact, many of their signs said, “Do something, do something, do something.” That was their only ask of us, to respond to their grieving, to respond to a traumatized community. But in response to that, the first action of this body is to expel members for calling for commonsense gun legislation.
We were calling for a ban of assault weapons and the response of this body is to assault democracy. This is a historic day for Tennessee but it is also a very dark day for Tennessee because it will signal to the nation that there is no democracy in this state. It will signal to the nation that if it can happen here in Tennessee, it’s coming to your state next. And that is why the nation is watching what we do here.
“My prayer to you is even if you expel me that you still act to address the crisis of mass shootings because if I’m expelled from here, I’ll be back out there with the people every week demanding that you act,” Jones said. “If you expel me I’ll continue to show up because this issue is too important.”
“And so if you expel me, I recognize that it’s not just about expelling me, it’s about expelling the people,” Jones asserted. “But your action will do the exact opposite. It will galvanize them to see what is happening in this state requires sustained action. And so I hope that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle regardless of what you decide to do to me, because this is not about me, it’s about those young people who are asking us to use our position and uphold our oath to protest and dissent from any action or legislation that is injurious to the people.”
“I pray that we uphold our oath on this floor because, colleagues, the world is watching,” he added.
After the expulsion vote, Jones was greeted by a passionate crowd of supporters in the State Capitol Rotunda, where he raised his fist while people chanted, “We stand with Justin.”
“Republicans know they are on the losing side of history. This is proof,” tweeted David Hogg, a survivor of the 2018 massacre of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and co-founder of March for Our Lives—which called Jones’ expulsion “fascist, undemocratic behavior.”
Olivia Juliana, director of politics and government affairs at the social media-based advocacy group Gen-Z for Change, wrote on Twitter that “Tennessee has given way to fascism.”
“The Tennessee Three will not be forgotten,” Juliana added. “This fight is far from over.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said, “What I saw today was a naked display of power, an utter disregard for the basics of due process, and a window into the country waiting for all of us unless we fight.”
Numerous observers said that instead of silencing Jones, Republicans ensured he was “elevated from obscurity to rising Democratic star.”
“Young people around this country will be galvanized around him now, come out and vote, and they’ll vote for Democrats across the board,” predicted one Twitter user. “GOP will suffer tremendously from this.”