One of thefrom the state Senate has sued the state of Tennessee and several politicians, claiming that he was unconstitutionally removed from office.
Rep. Justin Jones was one of The Covenant School left three students and three teachers dead. Jones and Rep. Justin Pearson, who are Black, were expelled, while Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is White, narrowly avoided removal. The two lawmakers were later reinstated to office and won special elections to retain control of their seats.involved in a gun control protest on the House floor in April after a shooting at
In his suit, Jones said that he was expelled for attempting to lead “open discussion about the use of weapons of war in murdering six Nashville citizens” and since his reinstatement has been “blocked from expressing views on critical issues that he was elected to express, ensuring that viewpoints dissenting from their own are silenced, neither heard nor spoken.” As part of his expulsion,was also removed from House committees, including the Government Operations and Education Administration committees, which he said he has not yet been restored to.
“This censorship violates the constitutions of Tennessee and of the United States and is an anathema to a free, democratic society,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit names the State of Tennessee, Tennessee House of Representatives Speaker Cameron Sexton, Chief Clerk Tammy Letzler, Chief Sergeant-at-Arms Bobby Trotter and Assistant Chief Clerk and Parliamentarian Daniel Hicks as plaintiffs. CBS News has reached out to the named defendants for comment and is awaiting response.
Jones alleged that the vote to expel him from office was “never a real issue” and “rigged from the start,” referencing a comment made by Republican Rep. Johnny Garrett in a closed-door meeting held after the vote.
“We had the jury already. This obviously wasn’t a trial. But I knew every single one of your vote counts. I knew that we did not have to convince you all,” Garrett said, according to the lawsuit. Other Republicans allegedly said they were ready to expel “all three” members “no matter what.” The lawsuit said that the vote was the first time “in the more than two-hundred year history of the House” that a member had been “removed from elected office for simply speaking on behalf of his or her constituents.”
Jones also said that typical rules were suspended to allow for “trial-like conditions” and let a Republican representative to “play a deceptive video” of Jones, Pearson, and Johnson’s protest in April, without having given prior notice of the video to the House’s Democratic minority. The video showed the events of the protest in a “slanted” light, the lawsuit claimed. Jones was also “not advised of the procedures for his expulsion hearing,” “deprived of time, resources, and opportunity to mount an adequate defense,” and “was not permitted to call witnesses … or introduce evidence” to defend himself, while Republican representatives were able to show the video, the lawsuit alleged.
“Efforts to expel Representative Jones were not borne out of a good faith effort to ensure decorum in the Chamber, but of a desire to silence and disempower a political rival,” the lawsuit said.
Jones said that being “forced” to run again in the special election for his seat forced his campaign to spend “over $70,000 … solely as a result of the unconstitutional and illegal expulsion.” Jones won his special election by a wide margin, defeatingby 55 points.
Jones was sworn in again on Aug. 17. Four days after that, new rules of order were implemented for a special session meant to consider legislation about school safety and firearm safety. The lawsuit claims that the new rules “were specifically designed to give the Speaker nearly unchecked power to limit and to silence speech and debate,” and the penalties include being stopped from speaking on the floor for as little as one day and up to the remainder of the annual legislative session, depending on how many violations have been recorded. The lawsuit called the rules vague, and says they do not “provide any definition or example of what constitutes ‘failure to strictly conform to the question under debate.'”
Jones said that heon Aug. 28. The lawsuit said he was first ruled “out of order” after asking a representative sponsoring a bill that would allow schools to increase the number of people on campus with firearms how the policy would prevent attacks by AR-15 style weapons. The second ruling came when Jones opposed a bill that would assign armed guards to schools.
Because he was ruled “out of order” twice, Jones was censured and the new rules were invoked, prohibiting him from speaking for the remainder of the day “with verbal threat that he could be silenced for the remainder of the legislative session.” Despite “questions from numerous members noting that there was no clear standard for knowing what was and was not ‘out of order,'” the punishment was sustained along partisan lines, the lawsuit said.
“The Speaker’s improper use of new Rule 18 to silence debate, not only on the issue in question but on future unrelated matters as well, has an extreme chilling effect on Representative Jones and other dissenting members’ free speech rights,” the lawsuit said. “Representative Jones faces the threat that, whenever he rises to speak in the Legislature, the Speaker will rule Representative Jones out of order in order to impose the harsher additional punishments for third and fourth infractions under the new Rule 18 and thus to silence and chill speech by Representative Jones for his term.”
The annual Tennessee legislative session is set to start in January. Some committees, including the Government Operations Committee that Jones was once on, are continuing to operate. Jones highlighted that Johnson did not lose her committee seats, and said lawmakers have been “intentionally discriminatory” by not restoring him to the committees he once served on.
Jones is asking that his expulsion be declared a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the state’s constitution, and that it does not have “any effect on his rights, privileges or entitlements,” including seniority in the legislative body. He is also asking that the new rules instituted during the special session be declared unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment, and that he no longer be punished or prevented from “speaking on the floor of the House or otherwise in his capacity as a duly elected member of the House of Representatives.”
Jones is also seeking compensatory damages, including the costs of the lawsuit. He has demanded a jury trial.