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Tennessee Republicans Racist Retaliation is an Anti-Democratic Outrage

WASHINGTON, D.C. The Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday voted to expel Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson, both Democrats, from the body.

In response to the expulsion, Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, issued the following statement: 

“Yesterday, Republicans in the Tennessee House of Representatives expelled two of their Democratic colleagues, summarily ending their current terms in office and depriving their constituents of duly elected representation.

“This was a racist and disproportionate act of retaliation against legislators who had joined demonstrators chanting in the chamber, in protest of Republican refusal to adopt commonsense gun control measures in the wake of the March 27 school shooting in Nashville.

“A third legislator who had joined the protests was not expelled. Asked why, she said, ‘it might have to do with the color of our skin.’

“Amidst this anti-democratic outrage, it’s vital not to lose sight of the policies that are and are not being adopted in Tennessee, Tallahassee and Washington, DC: Republicans are regulating books and drag shows, but not guns.

“It’s equally important to denounce the flagrantly anti-democratic actions of the Tennessee Republicans. In modern American history, expulsion of state legislators is very rare — not just in Tennessee but throughout the United States, and rightfully so. Legislators should expel elected officials only in extreme circumstances, not over policy differences or impingements on decorum. Legislative supermajorities already have enormous power; when they wield that power to strip away even the offices of the minority, they are treading on very dangerous ground.

“Some Tennessee legislators – and a lot of MAGA commentators online – are un-ironically calling the state representatives’ chanting an ‘insurrection.’

“Of course, the United States did witness a real insurrection on January 6, 2021. Not one member of Congress was expelled for promoting Donald Trump’s patently false claims that the 2020 election was ‘stolen’ from him or for supporting the attempted coup carried out at Trump’s behest. Only 10 Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives would vote to impeach Trump in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, and only two of them were able to get re-elected.

“American democracy is in a profound crisis, riven by lies, right-wing extremism, conspiratorial thinking, and subservience to corporate and special interests, and racism. What just happened in Tennessee is yet another reminder of the perilous state of our country.

“Yet, a hopeful future is also a visible feature of our nation, demonstrated in the courage and principle of the targeted representatives (Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, along with Rep. Gloria Johnson, who was not expelled) and the energy and commitment of the protesters – overwhelmingly young people – demanding justice and commonsense gun regulation. This is a powerful reminder that democracy does not die easily. Indeed, the energy in Tennessee will help inspire and power the nationwide movement not just to defend but to expand and deepen our democracy, and we are committed to rising to the occasion, and being part of this movement to make our country a more just and equitable place for all.”

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