Republican lawmakers expelled Tennessee state Rep. Justin J. Pearson ’17 (D) from the state House in a 69-26 vote last night. Pearson’s expulsion follows a protest he and two other lawmakers staged in the House chamber calling for more stringent gun control measures in the state.
While at Bowdoin, Pearson was active in student government. Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government Andrew Rudalevige recalls Pearson was engaged in political and civic issues.
“Justin was always very interested in issues of social justice,” Rudalevige said. “He was very interested in government and a whole range of things that went beyond the classroom.”
After graduation, Pearson began working as a community organizer, eventually returning to his hometown of Memphis, Tenn. In 2021, he received national attention for his campaign against a proposed pipeline through his South Memphis community.
Pearson won a special election to fill the 86th District in the Tennessee House earlier this year. Prior to being expelled, the 28-year-old was the second-youngest representative in the state.
Pearson’s expulsion follows the fatal mass shooting at the Covenant School last week in Nashville, Tenn. Pearson and two of his colleagues, one of whom was also expelled yesterday, brought House legislative activity to a halt, chanting “no action, no peace” with a bullhorn on the House floor.
Republicans in the House, who hold a 75-22 supermajority in the chamber, argued that Pearson’s expulsion was warranted because he violated rules of decorum.
“This is about absolute power and control over the people inside and outside the House who are demanding change,” Pearson responded on Twitter.
Rudalevige said that the issue of gun violence is personal for Pearson.
“[Pearson] has family members that have been affected by gun violence,” Rudalevige said. “He represents a part of Memphis where this is really an ongoing problem.”