Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general during the Obama administration, has threatened to file a lawsuit against Tennessee lawmakers if they don’t reinstate two state representatives who were recently ousted from their positions.
Recently, the members of the state House of Representatives in Tennessee voted to officially expel Representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones because of their involvement in a protest about gun control that happened at the state Capitol building.
Another representative, Gloria Johnson, faced a similar vote but was not expelled. Pearson and Jones are black men, while Johnson is a white woman.
In the time since Holder made his threat, Jones was reappointed to his seat on the House on an interim basis. The Nashville Metropolitan Council reappointed him via unanimous vote.
Pearson was later reappointed as well by a unanimous vote held by the Shelby County attending commissioners on an interim basis.
Still, Holder is representing both Pearson and Jones along with other attorneys. Prior to the men being reinstated to their posts, Holder and the other attorneys wrote a letter to Cameron Sexton, the Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House, which read:
“House Republicans not only wrongfully stripped these representatives of their rights as duly-elected legislators but also disenfranchised the voters they were elected to represent.
“[They] should be promptly sworn back in as members of the General Assembly and granted the same benefits, rights, duties and liberties as any other member. The world is watching Tennessee.
“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 same House Republicans who voted to expel the two Democrats were considering barring Pearson and Jones from returning. Ultimately, though, Republican leadership in the House decided they wouldn’t move forward with that after Holder and the lawyers sent them the letter.
That’s what led to both men being able to be reinstated to the General Assembly.
After the vote in Shelby County was held, Commissioner Erika Sugarmon took some time to praise Pearson for his actions. She said:
“My heart is singing. You belong on the national level … We need you here right now in this moment to continue the fight in Nashville. It’s not going to end today or tomorrow. It’s a journey.”
And Pearson himself addressed the people who voted for him to return the General Assembly, saying:
“We do not speak alone. We speak together. We fight together. So, a message for all the people in Nashville who decided to expel us: You can’t expel hope. You can’t expel our voice. You sure can’t expel our fight.”
On March 30, hundreds of people gathered in the House galleries to demand that gun reform be instituted in Tennessee. That happened after six people were shot, three of whom died, at Nashville’s The Covenant School.
Jones and Pearson used bullhorns during the protest, while Johnson joined in as well.