What happens next if 3 Tennessee lawmakers are expelled?

State House will consider resolutions that would expel Gloria Johnson, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson on Thursday.
WSMV's Marissa Sulek reports.
Published: Apr. 4, 2023 at 6:06 PM EDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Three Democratic lawmakers could lose their seats in the Tennessee House of Representatives this week. Resolution letters were filed Monday night saying they disrupted decorum during protests.

They call themselves “The Tennessee Three.” State Representatives Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, and Justin Jones, D-Nashville, all face expulsion. It comes after Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, claims they rushed the well of the House and led a protest with a bullhorn.

Constituents of Jones doubt the expulsion will pass.

“I don’t think it’s going to happen,” says Ben Malone.

“Get off your high horse,” says Jesse De Jesus. “People have the right to protest. As long as they didn’t do anything criminal. The moment they did something criminal then you can say something.”

We wanted to know if the three are stripped from their seats what happens next.

“I don’t know if you’re expelled, you’re expelled for life, or you’re expelled from this legislative session and could run again for the next one,” says Kent Syler, a political science professor at Middle Tennessee State University.

He says this expulsion could put Tennesseans in a tough spot.

The Tennessee Coordinator of Elections says in this case a successor would be appointed to finish out the term. Then a special election would be held the fill the seat. And yes, Johnson, Pearson, and Jones could run again.

It’s also April – the last month of General Session and a key one for legislation.

“I don’t think any district would want to be without representation during this period,” says Syler. “It may be challenged in court if it happens. Who knows where this will end up.”

For now, Syler says we’ll have to wait and see where this goes. As for constituents, some believe the three lawmakers will take it to court.

“Yeah, they’ll sue because it’s in the constitution and I don’t think they can do it,” says Malone.

The last time a state representative was expelled was in 2016. That was when former Rep. Jeremy Durham was ousted for sexual misconduct.