Justin Pearson sworn back in to Tennessee House

Justin Pearson sworn back in to Tennessee House

Justin Pearson

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, April 13 (Reuters) - Tennessee state Representative Justin Pearson was sworn in on Thursday after being reappointed to the legislature from which he and a Democratic colleague were expelled for leading a gun protest on the House of Representatives floor.

To applause, whoops and cheers, Pearson stood before a crowd of about 50 supporters and media as he was sworn in on the steps of the Capitol.

"We've just been expelled, but we're back," Pearson told the crowd. "You can't expel hope. You can't expel our voice. You can't expel our fight.

"I am so glad to be fighting with you, because victory is ours," he said, shaking his fist in the air, and then he and the crowd chanted: "Power to the people."

Leaving the fanfare of cameras and well-wishers at the reinstatement ceremony behind, Pearson entered the statehouse and took his seat.

On Wednesday, Pearson was appointed to his vacated seat by the county legislature that includes his Memphis district. His swearing-in concluded a whirlwind two weeks that made Tennessee the epicenter of U.S. politics.

Tennessee Republicans on April 6 kicked out Pearson and Justin Jones, another young, Black Democrat, as punishment for breaking rules of decorum a week earlier by leading a protest inside the House chamber. The demonstration was prompted by a March 27 school shooting in Nashville in which three children, three adults and the shooter were killed.

"Gun Violence is impacting and hurting every part of our community," Pearson said on the capitol steps, after reading a list of the recent gun victims. "They tried to expel this movement of justice, but it cannot be stopped."

Jones was reinstated to his vacated seat by the Nashville-area county legislature on Monday and was sworn in on the steps of the capitol in Nashville that same day.

Some 200 miles (320 km) to the west, Pearson was reappointed by the Memphis-area county board on Wednesday and was sworn in around 8 a.m. Central Daylight Time (1300 GMT).

It is the third time Pearson was sworn in this year. He had been appointed to the previously vacant seat in January and won a special election in March.

"We're going to keep fighting to end gun violence. We're going to keep fighting to end environmental racism and injustice," Pearson told reporters after his reappointment.

At the ceremony, he said, "If we never quit, we will see universal background checks" for guns.

Tennessee House Republicans, who have a supermajority, have said in a statement they will welcome back any expelled state lawmakers returned by county-level governments, so long as those members follow the legislature's rules.

The state constitution gives local legislative bodies the power to appoint interim state representatives to fill vacancies until special elections can be held. Jones and Pearson have said they will run in special elections, for which no dates have yet been set.

The pair helped lead the March 30 demonstration calling for gun control, disrupting a legislative session, along with Democratic Representative Gloria Johnson of Knoxville. They were supported by citizens outraged over the Covenant School shooting.

Johnson narrowly escaped also being expelled for breaching House decorum rules. She told reporters afterward she believed she survived because she is white.


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