NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Justin Jones and Justin Pearson are not the first lawmakers to have been expelled from the Tennessee legislature. News 2 spoke with a political science professor about how this form of punishment has been used before in the Volunteer State’s history.
For Professor Carrie Russell, the hours-long expulsion proceedings on Thursday, April 6 can be summed up in one phrase: “It was political theatre at its best.”
According to the Vanderbilt professor, there have actually been nine other expulsions in the history of the General Assembly.
After the Civil War in 1866, President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessean, wanted his home state to be the first to ratify the 14th Amendment and be reinstated into the Union, but six House members stood in the way, so they were expelled.
“If you expel people from their seats, and there’s no one there to cast a no vote, then you’ve solved that problem,” Russell explained, adding that it seemed very political.
More than a century passed without expulsions, but then in 1980, Rep. Robert Fisher was convicted in court for bribery and expelled from the House.
“He had promised to ensure that a certain bill didn’t make it out of his committee in exchange for $1,000, and he was caught red-handed in this transaction, and so he was expelled,” Russell said.
A few decades later, Rep. Jeremy Durham was expelled in 2016 after an Attorney General report accused him of harassing politicians and interns.
Then, in 2022, State Sen. Katrina Robinson was stripped of her Senate seat following a conviction for a federal fraud charge, marking the first and only expulsion in the upper chamber.
When ranking punishment for lawmakers, Russell told News 2 expulsion is the most serious, followed by stripping of committee assignments and censure.