Shelby County Board of Commissioners Reinstates Expelled Democrat Justin J. Pearson

Nashville: In a surprising turn of events, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners has reappointed Justin J. Pearson to his seat representing Tennessee House District 86, less than a week after he was expelled. Pearson, who represents Memphis, was reinstated in a 7-0 vote, while six of the 13 members, including Republicans, were absent from the meeting.
Justin Pearson celebrates with supporters after he was reinstated Wednesday. 
Adrian Sainz / AP

Following the decision, Justin Pearson spoke with reporters and confirmed that he would be heading to the Capitol in Nashville for Thursday’s House session. Chairman Mickell M. Lowery of the commission, who put forth the resolution to reinstate Pearson, stated that he had heard from people across the country who disagreed with the expulsion and felt it was important for the people of District 86 to be represented by the person they overwhelmingly voted for.

Pearson’s reinstatement is the latest twist in a political battle that has ignited accusations of racism and toxic partisanship. Pearson and another Black Democrat, Rep. Justin Jones, were expelled by largely white and male Republican House members who employed a disciplinary tool little used since the 1800s to punish the two lawmakers for leading a protest from the House floor calling for gun law reforms.

The differing outcomes of the disciplinary action, which saw Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is white, spared from expulsion, led Johnson to suggest that the color of their skin played a role in the decision. However, the reinstatement of Pearson and Jones on an interim basis offers hope that democracy is still alive and well in Tennessee.

Pearson is a strong advocate for gun law reforms and led a march from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis to the Shelby County Commission building following his reinstatement. In his speech to rally-goers, he called for a democracy that would “lift up the victims of gun violence instead of supporting the NRA and the gun lobbyists.” His passion for change and his commitment to his constituents make him a vital voice in the Tennessee House of Representatives.

With Pearson and Jones both returning to the legislature on an interim basis, the stage is set for a special election in which they can both run to regain their seats until the next general election in 2024. The reinstatement of these lawmakers is a small but significant victory for democracy, and it remains to be seen if other states will follow suit in challenging the status quo and standing up for what is right.

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