MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Attorneys for expelled state Reps. Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones demanded Monday that the Tennessee legislature immediately seat the two if they are re-appointed by local officials.
“Their partisan expulsion was extraordinary, illegal and without any historical or legal precedent,” stated a letter retweeted by Pearson. “We are reviewing these unconstitutional actions to understand how best to remedy them.”
The letter, addressed to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, was signed by a legal team that includes former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is representing Jones with D.C. firm Covington & Burling. Pearson is represented by Memphis firm Burch Porter & Johnson.
The two Democrats were expelled last week by a supermajority vote by Republicans for a protest they held on the House floor in support of gun control legislation.
Sexton said it was a violation of House rules.
“Their actions are and will always be unacceptable, and they break several rules of decorum and procedure on the House floor,” he posted to his Twitter account on April 3.
But attorneys argue it was because the representative exercised their constitutional rights.
The Shelby County Commission and Nashville Metropolitan Council must appoint interim replacements to fill the seats until the next election. It is likely that Pearson and Jones, who were elected by voters in their districts, will be re-appointed this week.
The attorneys demanded that if Pearson and Jones are returned to the legislature, they must be immediately sworn in with parking and Capitol access, and returned to any committees they served on.
“The world is watching Tennessee,” they stated. “Any partisan retributive action … would constitute further unconstitutional action that would require redress.”
Pearson, who was just sworn in March 27 and did not yet sit on any committees, said Monday, “It’s been the honor of my life to serve District 86 as their State House Representative. I want nothing more than to serve again … “
Sexton has not publicly responded.
A third Democratic House member who participated in the protest, Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, also faced an expulsion vote but retained her seat.