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State Rep. Justin J. Pearson ’17 expelled from Tennessee House

April 7, 2023

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.”


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  1. Shaun says:

    Rules are rules. Lawmakers moreso than most should understand there are consequences for breaking rules. Sounds like using a bullhorn to hold a protest on the floor of the TN legislature wasn’t in keeping with those rules all members of the body are expected to follow. I’m sure if Bowdoin students busted into a meeting of the Board of Trustees with bullhorns to protest an issue of concern, there would be consequences for violating the social code. There’s no exceptions just because the issue being protested is of genuine concern to the protester.

  2. David Whiteside, Bowdoin ‘72 says:

    I’m sorry Shaun but you miss the point entirely. The action of the Tennessee Legislature’s Republican Supermajority was racist, intended only to put two young black men “in their place”. That is, the punishment – expulsion – was unwarranted overreaction to a violation of rules of decorum for which there were other more appropriate punishments – for example, censure. Consider: the third protester, a white woman, was not expelled. Consider: the protesters were repeatedly denied an opera unity to speak to the issue, even having their microphones turned off. Consider: these denials came after a mass shooting that killed five and wounded others. Wasn’t this a situation that should have been addressed? Consider: non-violent student protesters in the ‘60s at Bowdoin and other colleges were not expelled from school. Were Bowdoin students to use bullhorns to interrupt a Board or Trustee or even a Faculty meeting, it is highly unlikely that the punishment would be expulsion from the college.

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