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Rep. Justin Jones sues Tennesssee House Speaker over expulsion and silencing rules

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Rep. Justin Jones sues Tennesssee House Speaker over expulsion and silencing rules

Oct 03, 2023 | 1:31 pm ET
By Adam Friedman
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Rep. Justin Jones sues Tennesssee House Speaker over expulsion and silencing rules
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Reps. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, Justin J. Pearson, D-Memphis, on the final day of the August 2023 special legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Rep. Justin Jones sued Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton in federal court Tuesday, alleging numerous constitutional violations related to his expulsion and silencing during this year’s legislative sessions.

In the lawsuit, Jones, D-Nashville, said his removal from the Tennessee House earlier this year violated his right to a fair trial and unfairly stripped him of committee assignments. He also alleges rules passed to silence House members during the August special legislative session violated his right to free speech.

“Time and again over the past year, defendants have blocked Rep. Jones from expressing views on critical issues that he was elected to express, ensuring that viewpoints dissenting from their own are silenced, neither heard nor spoken,” said Jones’ lawyers in their filing in the U.S. District Court for Middle Tennessee.

Former Middle Tennessee U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin and lawyers from the Washington D.C. law firm Covington and Burley are representing Jones.

‘An abomination:’ TN House expels two Dems over gun protest, despite removal looking temporary

How did we get here?

Tennessee House Republicans voted to expel Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, after the duo used a bullhorn during to stop a House floor session in March. The two Black men and Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, stood at the speaking podium protesting a lack of action by Republicans to address gun violence after three adults and three children were killed in a shooting at a Nashville private school.

Johnson, a white woman, survived expulsion by a single vote.

Part of Jones’ suit involves race, alleging he was treated differently than Johnson because he represents a majority minority House district.

The expulsion hearings received national attention and brought weeks of sustained protests at the State Capitol.

Local Nashville and Memphis officials swiftly returned Jones and Pearson to their expelled seats with interim appointments, and voters fully put them back in office during elections held over the summer.

The two men raised around $1.8 million in the six days between expulsion and their return to the state House.

Tennessee House Republicans then established a new set of rules during the special session, allowing them to silence members for disruptions and prevent them from commenting on legislation.

The rules were an attempt to avoid controversial expulsion hearings, while also stopping Jones and Pearson from slowing down the passage of legislation.

During the second to last day of the special session, House Republicans enforced the disruption rule, silencing Jones for an entire day. The whole House Democratic Caucus walked out of the chamber in protest of the move.

Justin Jones suit