The fight to preserve democracy is being waged within each state – local clashes that have significant meaning far beyond local borders. Such an example is occurring this week in Tennessee, where state lawmakers are acting with alarming speed and without a legitimate process to expel three of their colleagues for leading an anti-gun demonstration in the House less than one week ago.
The protest was in response to the Tennessee legislature’s refusal to address gun violence, and occurred days after a shooter, armed with three guns, fired 152 rounds in a school in Nashville, killing three nine-year-old children and three adults. The reason for the expulsion vote is that the representatives broke House rules of “decorum” and “procedure”.
Think about this contrast regarding the conduct motivating the Tennessee legislature to take swift action to expel their colleagues. It is not dead bodies in a school they object to; rather, it is raised voices on the floor of the House.
The danger to democracy cannot be overstated when a state legislature exerts its supermajority powers to remove dissenting voices, as is the case in Tennessee. Only two other Tennessee House members have been expelled since the Civil War, one for soliciting a bribe and the other after a state attorney general’s report detailed years-long allegations of sexual misconduct.
All of the three members who stand to be expelled are outspoken activists on a wide range of issues. One had to move to a new district to maintain her seat in the House after lawmakers redrew the legislative map in a way that would have forced her to run against another incumbent. The other two are among the few Black lawmakers in Tennessee. Their removal will deprive 210,000 constituents of the voices of their duly elected representatives.
When democracy and the rule of law are undermined in plain sight, we have an obligation as citizens to respond. When a state legislature acts to silence critics of longstanding inaction in the guise of a breach of decorum, we are all at risk of being silenced.
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