Since as far back as 1789, the term “expelled” has been used and incorporated in the Senate to reprimand only 15 of its members. To put that number into a bit more perspective, 14 of those expulsions happened during the Civil War era between 1861 and 1862 on grounds of supporting the Confederacy. All other occurrences have either resulted in the accused Party member leaving office before a charge could be made or the charges just getting dropped altogether. The last major case came back in 1995 when Republican ex-Senator Robert William Packwood resigned under threat of expulsion following allegations of sexual harassment and assault on women.
While not happening in the highest of courts, most recently you may have seen the word come up again in the media with the viral Tennessee Three saga, which saw Tennessee state lawmakers vote to expel three Democrat members in reaction to their involvement in a gun control protest on the House floor last week. Rep. Justin Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones, both Black men, were initially voted out. Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white woman, got to stay.
Take a look below for a recap of the core facts, via CBS News:
“On March 30, hundreds of protesters gathered at Tennessee’s state capitol in Nashville, calling for tighter gun control laws after three 9-year-olds and three adults were killed in a shooting at The Covenant School, a private grade school in the city. It was the first day that the state’s legislature had taken up bills since the shooting.
Protesters lined the hallways before entering the galleries of the House and Senate chambers, chanting and shouting.
On the House floor, the three representatives brought proceedings to a halt. Jones and Pearson led chants through a bullhorn as legislators instituted a recess. Video filmed by a Republican on the house floor during the event — also a violation of the legislature’s rules, Democrats contended on Thursday — showed the three speaking on the floor as demonstrators could be heard in the background.”
27-year-old Jones, who got a vote of 72-25, has proven to be the most vocal of his supportive trifecta when it comes to addressing the media. In his very passionate speech on the floor just before the vote, he can be heard saying, “This is not about expelling us as individuals. This is your attempt to expel the voices of the people from the people’s house. It will not be successful.” He swiftly followed up by strongly stating, “Your overreaction, your flexing of false power has awakened a generation of people who will let you know that your time is up.”
28-year-old Pearson, ousted with a 69-26 vote, gave a clearer explanation to their actions by stating, “We have heard from thousands of people asking us to do something about gun violence. What it is in the best interest of our people is ending gun violence.” While Johnson, 60, did in fact keep her seat, it was only by a mere one vote at 65-30; 66 votes are needed for expulsion. She didn’t stay mum in the least bit on the irony of the legislative decision, telling CNN last week, “I think it’s pretty clear: I’m a 60-year-old White woman. And they are two young Black men.”
As fate would have it, city officials as of today voted to return Justin Jones back to his position at the Tennessee House of Representatives; Pearson’s reinstatement is expected to follow soon after. We’ll keep you updated on what comes next as more details emerge in this developing story.
In the meantime, take a look below at 5 important facts you should know when it comes to legislative expulsion in order to better understand this case:
- Over 300,000 In Tennessee Voted Against Prohibition Of Slavery
- Black Man Left Bloodied, Brutally Beaten By Tennessee Cops In Home Arrest
- Black Man Making A DoorDash Delivery Tased By Cop During Traffic Stop
1. Expulsion Is RareSource:Getty
Due to expulsion being such a last resort situation in the House, with the charge being reserved for only the most corrupt of crimes, it says a lot that Pearson, Jones and Johnson were giving the treatment for simply protesting alongside the people of their community.
2. Only Eight Lawmakers Have Been Expelled In TennesseeSource:Getty
Six of those cases involved representatives expelled in 1866 for attempting to block the 14th Amendment as a way to deny citizenship for former slaves. Then in 1980, Republican Rep. Robert Fisher managed to get expelled on grounds of bribery. The latest occurred just seven years ago in 2016 when Republican Jeremy Durham was expelled for sexual misconduct.
3. Pensions Are Protected…With ExceptionsSource:Getty
Even in the event of expulsion, Congressional pensions are generally kept in tact for all Party members. The only exception is if the conviction is on one of 31 specific felonies under the Hiss Act, or in other words, “a federal crime that relates to espionage, treason, or several other national security offenses against the United States.”
4. “Expulsion” Is Not The Same As “Exclusion”Source:Getty
As stated by Congressional Research Service, “The Supreme Court has considered expulsion to be distinct from exclusion, the process by which the House and Senate refuse to seat Members-elect. In so concluding, the Supreme Court has held that exclusion cannot be used as a disciplinary tool, and Congress, accordingly, cannot undertake disciplinary measures on Members until after those Members have taken the oath of office.”
5. Expulsion Has No LimitationsSource:Getty
Although certain crimes are taken into higher consideration than others, the truth is that expulsion can be enacted based on anything that goes against judicial policy. In short, loopholes can definitely be worked up and seemed to be what happened recently in Tennessee.