Memphis commissioners to meet to reappoint Justin Pearson, ousted Tennessee representative

County officials in Memphis are set to meet Wednesday to reappoint Justin Pearson to the Tennessee House of Representatives, less than a week after the legislature voted to expel him and another Black Democratic lawmaker for participating in a protest against gun violence.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners, which has been tasked with appointing someone to fill the seat, is meeting at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss reappointing Pearson. Ahead of the vote, Pearson is set to lead a march from the National Civil Rights Museum to the commissioner’s office. 

Shelby County Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery told CBS Memphis affiliate WREG that many on the board want Pearson to be reappointed. It will take seven yes votes to send him back to the legislature. 

“My goal was to make sure that we had a quorum. I feel pretty confident about it. I wouldn’t call the meeting if I didn’t think we’d be confident in being able to appoint Justin Pearson,” Lowery told WREG. 

Justin Jones, who represents Nashville and was expelled along with Pearson, was reappointed Monday by that city’s Metro Council. 

Expelled State Rep. Justin Pearson delivers remarks outside the state Capitol Monday, April 10, 2023, in Nashville.
Expelled state Rep. Justin Pearson delivers remarks outside the state Capitol Monday, April 10, 2023, in Nashville.

George Walker IV / AP

Pearson, Jones and a third lawmaker, Gloria Johnson, participated in a protest against gun violence at the Tennessee statehouse on March 30, just days after three children and three adults were killed in a shooting at a Nashville school. Republicans in the legislature have a supermajority, and moved to expel all three lawmakers on April 6. Johnson survived by one vote, and the other two were expelled. 

Asked why she survived as opposed to Jones and Pearson, Johnson, who is White, told MSNBC that she is a “60-year-old White woman and they are two young Black men.”

But following the rules of the expulsion, Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, still has to sign what’s called a writ of election to set the dates for a future special election. Expulsions by the House are very rare — just two people have been expelled by the chamber since 1866, when six lawmakers were removed after they tried to prevent Tennessee from ratifying the 14th Amendment which gave citizenship to former slaves, according to CBS affiliate WTVF in Nashville. 

The battle at the Tennessee statehouse has received national attention. U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting an investigation into the expulsions and whether they violated federal civil rights law. 

Vice President Kamala Harris made a last-minute trip to Nashville last Friday to meet with Jones, Pearson and Johnson, who are being referred to by some as the “Tennessee Three.” Harris received wild applause and several standing ovations as she told a crowd at Nashville’s historically Black Fisk University that Jones, Pearson and Johnson were being silenced and stifled as they fought “for the safety of our children.” 

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