MEMPHIS, Tenn. — History could be made this week as three Democrats in the Tennessee House face possible expulsion, including Memphis Representative Justin J. Pearson. 

Last week, Representives Pearson, Gloria Johnson (Knoxville) and Justin Jones (Nashville) walked up to the well of the House, the area at the front of the chamber, with a bullhorn and led the gallery in chants after an emotional protest on the House floor about gun laws, following a deadly shooting at a Nashville school.

Their protest was characterized by Republican lawmakers as an insurrection violating rules of decorum in the chamber. By Monday, a resolution was filed calling for their expulsions.

But Pearson says he isn’t backing down.

“Yes, I can tell you we broke House decorum rules, going to the well when you’re not called on, and I understand that,” Pearson said. “But it’s not so severe it needs to have the expulsion of myself, Representive Johnson and Representative Jones. That’s an egregious use of power to silence us and to abridge our First Amendment rights.”       

They also lost their badge and parking access, while both Johnson and Jones were stripped of their committee assignments. 

“Never before have members been expelled for a peaceful protest,” Pearson said. “The last two expulsions that have happened were because of crimes being committed, sexual assault, bribery. We’ve done nothing of the sort.”

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) said he had to take action over the lack of decorum.

“I can understand that people have, highly emotional on certain subjects,” Sexton said. “At the same time, there is a proper way to handle that and a proper way not to. What was demonstrated on this House floor is not the proper way to that.”

Pearson says they’re being punished for listening to the people. There is way too much gun violence in Memphis and across the state, he said, and he won’t be silenced.

“It’s a message to every Tennessean in this state that your voice, if it’s against the status quo, there will be penalties and you might be sacrificed on the altar of silence over support of guns over individuals, over people and over kids at any time, and that is chilling,” Pearson said.

Pearson said Tennesseans are suffering under the state’s laws and the lack of laws, and inaction on the part of the legislature in the state of Tennessee.

The Memphis environmental activist was only elected to the House District 86 seat in late January, after a special election to fill the seat of longtime Rep. Barbara Cooper, who died in office at age 93.

Pearson was 28 when he defeated nine candidates in the special election, making him one of the youngest members of the Tennessee General Assembly. Cooper had been one of the oldest.

He drew criticism almost immediately from Sexton and House Republicans, who scolded him after he wore an African dashiki on the House floor.

“If you don’t like rules, perhaps you should explore a different career opportunity that’s main purpose is not creating them,” wrote the Tennessee House GOP on Twitter.

The House expulsion vote is scheduled to take place Thursday morning in Nashville.

Only two other House members have ever been ousted from the chamber since the Civil War. The most recent was Republican Jeremy Durham, who was ousted over a sexual harassment claim in 2016.

The 112th General Assembly House of Representatives is composed of 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats.