Memphis-area officials will meet Wednesday to decide whether to reinstate Justin J. Pearson to the Tennessee Legislature after Republicans ousted him last week for protesting gun violence in the chamber.
The Shelby County Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to address the issue during a special meeting in Memphis on Wednesday at 2:30 pm ET.
Democrats hold a 9-4 majority on the 13-seat board. only a handful of members have until now commented publicly about his support for Pearson and his intention to vote to return it to the Legislature. A simple majority is required.
Pearson and fellow Democrat Justin Jones, who are black, were ousted Thursday in unprecedented votes in the state House that drew national attention to racial and political dynamics in the state’s legislative body.
Jones, Pearson and state representative Gloria Johnson had targeted supporters in chants calling for gun restrictions after a shooting at a Nashville school that killed six people, including three 9-year-olds. All three of them technically broke house rules by speaking up when they weren’t acknowledged. Jones and Pearson addressed the protesters with a megaphone.
Johnson, who is white, narrowly outlived her vote, a result that suggested it was related to her race, while Pearson and Jones did not.
The Shelby County Board of County Commissioners vote will take place two days after the Nashville Metropolitan Council voted unanimously to reinstate Jones to his Legislature seat. The council suspended its rules to allow for an immediate vote instead of holding an extended nomination period.
Cameron Sexton, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, placed Jones in his old position and promised to seat whomever Shelby County officials designate to fill Pearson’s vacancy, including Pearson.
Under state rules, elections must still be held for both seats. Those rules dictate that Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, must schedule a primary for the Jones and Pearson seats within 60 days and a general election within 107 days. Both Jones and Pearson have said they will seek re-election.
The expulsions represented a historic event in the Legislature. Since the Civil War, members of the Tennessee state House of Representatives have voted to expel a member only twice: one case followed an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct, while another followed a bribery conviction. Similarly, the Tennessee Senate voted last year to expel a sitting member for the first time — Katrina Robinson — after she was convicted on federal wire fraud charges.
But unlike those cases, Jones and Pearson were expelled for violating House rules.
Democrats across the US, including the White House, have expressed broad support for Jones and Pearson.
President Joe Biden has called the «Tennessee Three,» a nickname that also includes Johnson, and invited them to visit the White House, while criticizing the expulsions of Jones and Pearson as «shocking, undemocratic and unprecedented.» Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Nashville on Friday to meet with the three legislators.
pink horowitch contributed.