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A History Of Expulsion From State Legislatures Since 2003

Two Tennessee state legislatures were briefly expelled from their position earlier this year. How common are these expulsions?

Last month, three elected officials were expelled from state legislatures: Reps. Liz Harris (R-Ariz.), Justin Jones (D-Tenn.), and Justin Pearson (D-Tenn.).

Local officials later re-appointed Jones and Pearson to their seats. The Maricopa County Board of Supervisors appointed Julie Willoughby to Harris’ seat on May 5. 

In order to determine how often lawmakers are expelled, we have been digging into the historical data.

Including the three recent expulsions in Arizona and Tennessee, we have found 28 cases of elected officials expelled from state legislatures since 2000. For 20, the chambers voted to expel them, and eight were removed automatically following criminal convictions under state law.

Statistics of expelled members of legislatures involving both the Republican and Democratic Party. COURTESY/BALLOTPEDIA 

Jones was expelled from the Tennessee chamber along with Justin J. Pearson where they advocated for gun control after the mass shooting incident at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee.

“I want those of you to know when I came to the well, I was fighting for your children and grandchildren, too,” Jones said in his closing statement. “And to those that will cast votes here for expulsion, I was fighting for your children too — to live free from the terror of school shootings and mass shootings.”

He was late reinstated to his a few days later by the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County.

Pearson was re-instated two days later. The third Tennessee state representative, Gloria Johnson, survived the expulsion vote when Jones and Pearson were voted out of office.

Of those 28, 22 expelled legislators were members of their chamber’s majority party, and six were minority party members, shown below:

Members who were expelled from their state legislature chamber where either Republicans and/or Democrats held the majority. COURTESY/BALLOTPEDIA

Looking further back, we have found 79 expulsions, in total, between 1813 and 2023. This includes 39 Democrats, 29 Republicans, and six members of the Socialist Party.

Some noteworthy cases include:

  • John Wilson, former Speaker of the Arkansas House, was expelled in 1837 after killing a colleague during a knife fight on the chamber floor;
  • John P. Slough, a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, was expelled in 1857 after punching a colleague during an argument on the floor;
  • E.L. Alford, a member of the Texas State Senate, was expelled in 1870 for resisting arrest by the body’s sergeant-at-arms;
  • Frank Raguse, a Wisconsin state senator and a member of the Socialist Party, was expelled in 1917 for alleged disloyalty to the United States;
  • Dean Skelos, former New York Senate Majority Leader, was automatically expelled in 2015 after being convicted on federal corruption charges; and,
  • Sheldon Silver, former Speaker of the New York Assembly, was automatically expelled in 2015 after being convicted of federal corruption charges.

Montana state legislator Zooey Zephyr was barred from the legislature in April after using graphic language in opposition to a proposed ban on gender-affirming care..

“If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed,” said Zephyr at the time when she had the floor on the Montana legislature chamber. “The only thing I will say is if you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”

Produced in association with Ballotpedia

Edited by Alberto Arellano and Sterling Creighton Beard

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