Nashville Council to Vote on Returning Expelled Lawmaker to House

NASHVILLE — The partisan fight in Tennessee over the fate of two expelled Democratic lawmakers appeared set to deepen on Monday as local officials in Nashville were poised to move toward appointing one of them back to a seat in the state House of Representatives.

After the state’s Republican supermajority voted last week to expel the two lawmakers — Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis — for leading a gun control protest on the House floor, Democrats across the nation have rallied to their side.

President Biden and other high-ranking national officials have voiced their anger at what they view as an overly punitive and undemocratic action against two young Black lawmakers. A third lawmaker who joined the protest, Gloria Johnson, who is white and more senior in the legislature, narrowly avoided expulsion by one vote.

The power to temporarily fill the vacant seats now falls to the local governing authorities in their former districts. The Metropolitan Nashville Council was set to convene on Monday to take the first steps toward sending Mr. Jones back to the state legislature as a temporary representative ahead of a special election later this year. In Memphis, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners was set to consider sending Mr. Pearson back to the legislature on Wednesday.

The expulsions have also inflamed tensions over how Tennessee’s Republican supermajority has flexed its control over liberal-leaning areas and moved to rein in the autonomy of the state’s largest cities. The Metropolitan Council, which oversees both Nashville and the county that it sits in, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit against the state over a law that would slash that governing body in half.

Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Pearson will also have the opportunity to run again for their respective seats in the coming months, and have both said they would do so.

“We will continue to fight for our constituents,” Mr. Jones said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. Mr. Pearson, speaking in the same interview, added, “They are afraid of the changes that are happening in our society and the voices that are elevated.”

Even if both men are reappointed, it was unclear how quickly they would be seated in the House. Lawyers for the men — a group that includes Eric H. Holder Jr., the former U.S. attorney general — warned on Monday against any further action against them or their cities.

“Any partisan retributive action, such as the discriminatory treatment of elected officials, or threats or actions to withhold funding for government programs, would constitute further unconstitutional action that would require redress,” the lawyers wrote on Monday in a letter to Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Republican.

Republican leaders have acknowledged that the lawmakers could return to their positions in the House, even as they have repeatedly defended their decision to oust them.

“The two governing bodies will make the decision as to who they want to appoint to these seats,” said Doug Kufner, a spokesman for Mr. Sexton. “Those two individuals will be seated as representatives as the constitution requires.”

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