MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — Lawmakers and leaders are reacting after the Shelby County Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to appoint Justin J. Pearson to his seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Chants from Pearson’s supporters filled the room after all seven commissioners in attendance voted “Yes” to the decision. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris signed the appointment resolution hours after the vote.
“An ill-conceived expulsion is no match for the will of the people. Just now, I signed the appointment resolution of Rep. Justin J. Pearson for State Representative so he can go back to Nashville and continue the important work he has already started with the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus,” Harris said on Twitter.
Pearson represented District 86 until he was expelled from the House along with Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) for what House Speaker Cameron Sexton said was a violation of House rules after they interrupted a House session with a protest in favor of stricter gun control laws after six people were killed during a school shooting in Nashville.
Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) kept her seat in the House, avoiding expulsion by one vote. The Metro Council reappointed Jones to the House on April 10, four days after the expulsion vote.
The news also comes one day after Gov. Bill Lee recently signed an executive order to require law enforcement to submit new criminal activity within 72 hours and called on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to examine background checks for firearms in the state.
Following Wednesday’s vote, Pearson tweeted, “These Shelby County Comissioners are a group of leaders who won’t bend, won’t bow, and won’t break under the pressure of unjust oppression! We’re back, and we’re gonna keep fighting!”
He also released a lengthy statement thanking the Commission and his supporters. Read his full statement below:
“I’m so humbled and grateful to once again represent District 86. Thank you to those who rallied, marched, wrote letters, posted on social media and prayed for this moment. I thank the members of the Shelby County Commission for their courage to do what is right, to protect the representation that voters in District 86 went to the polls twice to earn.
We’ve been through a lot this past week, but the struggle continues and we’re in this together. We’ve seen more than our share of struggles in District 86–exploitation, racism, and all manner of inequities. But we’ve always triumphed because we’ve been on the right side of history. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We are benders of that arc and justice is what we will achieve–justice for those who mourn the loss of loved ones to gun violence and endure the stubborn racial and financial disparities that have no place in our world.
Representative Justin Jones and I are back in the People’s House and the people have begun to turn the tide. With the eyes of the nation watching, Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order to strengthen background checks for gun purchasing, and GOP Representative Paul Sherrell has been removed from the House Criminal Justice Committee after suggesting Tennessee bring lynching back to our state.
The winds of change are blowing across Tennessee and our nation. This moment called for justice, for action. We weren’t silent. We answered and we prevailed. But, we have a long way to go. We must ban assault weapons. We must reimagine a school safety that nourishes and supports, educates, and protects our children, not one that criminalizes them and looks like a prison. We must look to Restorative Justice instead of police brutality and an unjust criminal justice system. We must fight back against the cruelty to our trans children and other LGBTQ siblings. We must fight environmental racism, instead bring clean energy and green jobs to our district. We must eliminate the policy violence of economic, social and political inequality.
None of this is easy, especially in a state so heavily gerrymandered and so anti-democratic as Tennessee, but our ancestors faced worse and they prevailed. So will we, as long as we stay in the streets, in the halls of power and in the front of the chamber–together.
Our values of democracy, freedom, equality, safety from gun violence and well-being for all are the majority values in our district, our state and our nation. We are the majority.
Thank you for bringing me back to the People’s House where we can accomplish great things together. We are the new Tennessee.“
Full statements from other lawmakers and leaders below:
“Representative @Justinjpearson has been appointed by the Shelby County Commission to fill the vacant seat that Republicans expelled him from. The Commission has followed the law. The people have spoken. In the words of Rep. Pearson “let’s get back to work”.”
Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-9)
“I am pleased to see the swift reversal of the questionably legal and immoral vote to remove an upstanding and principled legislator from his state House seat. Gun violence, and real solutions to ending it, will be discussed in the Tennessee General Assembly, and across the nation, because they must be. The unjustified removal of Justin Pearson and Justin Jones advanced the cause of gun control and hampered Republican efforts to suppress it. I hope their temporary removal will galvanize all of us who know sensible solutions are possible and necessary. I agree with Justin’s words this afternoon: ‘you can’t expel hope.’ ”
“And just like that, my brother @Justinjpearson has been reappointed to represent House District 86! That seat was held by the late #BarbaraCooper before Rep. Pearson, and is very special to me and the grassroots community in Memphis. I know she would be proud.”
Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO
“This is America – where you receive more legislative ‘action’ for calling out the need for gun control than for actually addressing the loss of life as a result of gun violence. It is disappointing, but not surprising, to know that some lawmakers in Tennessee would rather spend precious time removing these brave young Black men from their duly elected positions than take a stance against inadequate gun policies. Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson have demonstrated incredible leadership and commitment to protecting their constituents and our democracy through their unwavering support of gun reform in the absence of action from their state-level peers and legislative colleagues at the federal level.”
WREG will continue to update this story. Check back for updates.