NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Following the expulsion of two Democratic lawmakers from the Tennessee House of Representatives last week, their home communities have both indicated they intend to send the two expelled members back to their seats.
Metro Nashville Councilmembers were quick to voice support on social media for Rep. Justin Jones in District 52 and are set to vote Monday night to appoint Jones back to his seat as an “interim successor.” The chairman of the Shelby County Board of Commissioners said that board would similarly consider action to send Rep. Justin Pearson back to the state house.
But can they do this?
According to state law, it appears so.
When a vacancy occurs in the general assembly, the state provides that “a successor shall be elected…by the qualified voters of the district in which the vacancy occurred.” In order to tide things over between the vacancy and a successor’s election, the local legislative body is empowered to appoint someone to serve in the interim.
“The legislative body of the replaced legislator’s county of residence at the time of such legislator’s election may elect an interim successor to serve until the election,” state law says.
There are no qualifiers as to who may serve as the interim or elected successor in state law. Tennessee Code Annotated only states the person must be a “qualified voter” of that district.
Only a qualified voter of the district represented shall be eligible to succeed to the vacant seat.Tennessee Code Annotated §2-14-204
Since both Jones and Pearson were qualified voters in their respective districts, both can legally be appointed into their own seats and be reelected to them, according to the law.
Further, should they be reelected, they would also have legal immunity from being expelled for the same reasons a second time, much like the double jeopardy provision in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The same provision of the Tennessee Constitution that allows for each chamber of the general assembly to expel a member also states members cannot be expelled twice for the same offense.
Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offense.Tennessee Constitution, Article II, Section 12
Jones could be back in the House by Tuesday if the vote from Metro Council Monday night is completed expeditiously.