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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Nashville Rep. Justin Jones files lawsuit against Tennessee House Speaker for April expulsion

Jones alleges that his April 6 expulsion from the Tennessee General Assembly was unconstitutional.
Michael Tung
TN State Capital, as photographed on Sept. 14, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Michael Tung)

Tennessee State Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) filed a federal civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee against House Speaker Cameron Sexton on Oct. 3 over his expulsion from the Tennessee General Assembly in April. Jones represents Tennessee District 52, which includes Vanderbilt and parts of Nashville and Davidson County. 

In April, Jones, along with Rep. Justin Pearson (D-Memphis), was expelled from the General Assembly after participating in gun reform protests alongside demonstrators at the Tennessee State Capitol following the Covenant School shooting in Nashville. Republican legislators cited his alleged breaking of House conduct and decorum rules as grounds for his expulsion. He was later appointed interim representative through a Metro Nashville Council vote and reinstated to his role through a special election on Aug. 3. 

In addition to Sexton, the lawsuit names the state of Tennessee, General Assembly Chief Clerk Tammy Letzler, Assistant Chief Clerk and Parliamentarian Daniel Hicks and Chief Sergeant at Arms Bobby Trotter as co-defendants.

“Today, my attorneys filed a federal lawsuit to hold Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton responsible for his unconstitutional and discriminatory actions,” Jones said on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Oct. 3. “The people of District 52 deserve to have their voices heard without the threat of undemocratic silencing and retaliation.”

The lawsuit claims that Jones’s expulsion from the House and alleged censorship since his reinstatement is unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Rights Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the First Amendment. In the lawsuit, Jones says he was denied due process in the expulsion process. The suit further reads that Jones has yet to be reinstated to House committee assignments, from which he was removed due to his expulsion. Representatives are typically appointed to committees by the Speaker of the House.

The lawsuit also asserts that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated due to alleged disparate racial treatment in the expulsions. Jones and Pearson, both Black men, were expelled from the House and denied committee positions after reinstatement. However, Rep. Gloria Johnson, a white woman, protested gun violence alongside Jones and Pearson but was not expelled from the House or removed from committee assignments. The vote to expel Johnson failed by one vote, allegedly because Republican legislators thought Johnson did not protest to the extent of Pearson and Justin. 

The lawsuit aims to eliminate “The New Rules” — amendments to the rules of order of the House of Representatives passed in a special session in August 2023. These rules expanded the power of the Speaker of the House to enforce rules of decorum and ban members from speaking on the House floor for multiple legislative days if members don’t comply. There is no explicit definition of decorum violation in the rules — the Speaker decides what is considered a violation as they see fit. 

“The New Rules include rules that [a]re specifically designed to give the Speaker nearly unchecked power to limit and to silence speech and debate,” the lawsuit states. “The New Rules give the Speaker ‘the authority to set other guidelines for decorum,’ and to seek to discipline any ‘member causing a material disruption,’ by a majority vote of the House that, per the Rule, is to be held ‘without debate.’”

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Political Science Professor John Geer noted that First Amendment right suits are “not simple case[s],” as constitutional rights interact with the separate rules of the General Assembly. 

Speaker Sexton did try and succeeded in stopping Rep. Jones from addressing his colleagues. Does that action violate his First Amendment rights? Or was Sexton within his rights as speaker?” Geer said. “The courts will decide who is right.”

Jones’s communications team did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment. Vanderbilt College Democrats President Chase Mandell expressed support for Jones on behalf of the organization. 

VCD believes elected representatives have the right to express their opinions and policy views openly,” Mandell said. “Ultimately, the legislature should uphold democratic principles and ensure that all voices are heard and valued in policymaking.”

Vanderbilt College Republicans Secretary Noah Jenkins was critical of Jones, referring to him as “raucous and disorderly” and the lawsuit as “ludicrous.”

“When the citizens of the State of Tennessee elect their representatives, it is a privilege for them to serve…While free speech is very important to a legislative body, so too is decorum,” Jenkins said. “I believe Speaker Sexton and the rest of the legislature were well within their right, through the power vested in them by the people of Tennessee, to remove Jones.”

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About the Contributors
Arman Amin
Arman Amin, Staff Writer
Arman Amin (‘27) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in political science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find him listening to music, going for a run or spending time with friends. You can reach him at [email protected].
Rhea Patney
Rhea Patney, Managing Editor
Rhea Patney (‘26) is majoring in medicine, health and society and communication of science and technology on the pre-med track in the College of Arts and Science. She is from St. Louis and previously served as Deputy Data Director. When not writing for The Hustler, Rhea loves reading, starting new TV shows and struggling to finish them, playing sports and watching sunsets with her friends. She can be reached at [email protected].
Michael Tung
Michael Tung, Staff Photographer
Michael Tung ('26) is majoring in computer science. He is currently a staff photographer and is originally from Dublin, Ohio. His interests are photography, engineering, all things aerospace and music. He can be reached at [email protected]
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