Oct 3, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones sues House speaker over free speech

Rep. Justin Jones speaks prior to a vote to expel him, with Speaker Cameron Sexton looking over his shoulder, at a House meeting in April. Photo: Seth Herald/Getty Images

State Rep. Justin Jones accused House Speaker Cameron Sexton of suppressing his right to free speech in a federal lawsuit filed in Nashville on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The lawsuit escalates the bitter feud between one of the most powerful Republicans in state government and a young Democrat who rose to national prominence as one of three lawmakers subject to expulsion votes over a gun reform protest who became known as "the Tennessee Three."

State of play: Sexton has repeatedly blocked Jones from expressing his views, namely on the issue of gun violence, according to the lawsuit.

  • Jones was expelled from the House in a partisan vote after he and two other House Democrats took a bullhorn to the well of the House floor to call for gun control measures in the wake of the Covenant School shooting.
  • Although he was reappointed and then re-elected to his old seat, Jones has not been reinstated to his previous committee assignments.

House Republicans also instituted rules surrounding debate for the special legislative session on public safety in August.

  • During the special session, Sexton cut Jones off while he was debating school safety bills. Sexton said Jones was violating rules because he was veering away from the topic of the legislation.

What he's saying: Jones argues in his lawsuit that those actions by Sexton amounted to "censorship," which he says "violates the constitutions of Tennessee and of the United States and is an anathema to a free, democratic society."

  • Jones is asking the federal court to declare Sexton's actions illegal and to prevent Sexton from curbing his free speech in the future.
  • The lawsuit also names legislative staffers as defendants for their roles in carrying out Sexton's orders.
  • Jones is represented by attorneys Jerry Martin and Dave Garrison as well as the Washington, D.C., firm Covington & Burling.

The other side: According to the lawsuit, Sexton told Jones the reason he has not been given committee assignments is because he was re-elected to his seat after the end of the regular legislative session in April.

  • As of late Tuesday, Sexton had not responded to a request for comment.

Go deeper: Senate Dems want Justice Department probe on "Tennessee Three"

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