Former US attorney general calls on Tennessee House speaker to restore Rep. Jones to committees before special session on guns

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is senior counsel at Covington & Burling in Washington, addresses the media in 2022 in Detroit. Holder, who represents Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, wants Jones reinstated to his committee assignments for the upcoming special session of the General Assembly after voters officially returned Jones to the House last week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

NASHVILLE — Representing state Rep. Justin Jones, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Tennessee Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton that Jones should be "fully reinstated" to all rights, duties and privileges of his office before Gov. Bill Lee's Aug. 21 special session on guns begins.

In his letter to Sexton, dated Monday, Holder, now an attorney at Washington-based Covington Burling LLP, said he was writing to confirm the Democrat would be reinstated after Nashville voters Thursday re-elected the Black social justice advocate in a special election.

Jones and fellow Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, were expelled after the protest over the mass shooting at The Covenant School, a Christian elementary school in Nashville that left three 9-year-olds and three staffers dead. The 28-year-old shooter, a former student, was killed by responding police officers.

Another member of what became known as the "Tennessee Three," Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, narrowly survived the House expulsion resolution vote.

Both Jones and Pearson were reappointed by their respective county commissions until a special election could be held. During the remainder of the regular session, Jones and Pearson, however, did not have committee assignments. Following the Thursday election, where Jones and Pearson were overwhelmingly re-elected, they are full members. But they were not allowed back on their committees. Nor was Johnson, briefly.

(READ MORE: Chattanoogans talk gun violence ahead of special session)

"It is critical that the Representative Jones, whose voice and leadership on issues of school safety and gun control have been recognized throughout Tennessee and the nation, participate in his committees in this important debate," Holder wrote in his letter to Sexton, who is from Crossville. "Anything less will only exacerbate the injuries this body has already inflicted on Representative Jones and his constituents by further depriving him of the rights and responsibilities to which you have already acknowledged he is entitled by his election.

  photo  Tennessee state Reps. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, left, and Justin Jones, D-Nashville, speak to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House after meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office on April 24. Pearson and Jones, who became Democratic heroes as members of the "Tennessee Three," reclaimed their legislative seats Thursday after they were expelled for involvement in a gun control protest on the House floor. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

"Anything less will disenfranchise and deny the people of the 52nd District of representation by the person that they have now twice elected to speak on their behalf in the people's house," Holder continued.

Holder said the legal basis for Jones' full and unqualified reinstatement "is beyond question, as you have already acknowledged in open session."

When Jones came back, he asked Sexton whether he would be restoring his committee assignments as had been done for Johnson, Holder noted. At the time, Sexton said the "standard practice" was that appointments to committees weren't made "until they were duly elected."

(READ MORE: 'Stay on the bill, sir': What led to the ouster votes for the Tennessee Three)

At least two of the committees on which Jones serves, the Government Operations Committee and the Education Administration Committee, "are certain to be central to any bills or proposed measures" the House takes up during the special session, Holder wrote.

Jones was also on the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee and Agricultural Subcommittee. Holder requested a response from Sexton by Friday.

"Please also confirm that Representative Jones has otherwise been fully reinstated to all rights, benefits and duties of a full member of the Tennessee House of Representatives, including the official acknowledgement of his full time served in office for purposes of determining seniority within the House and calculating retirement and other benefits," Holder added.

In a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Tuesday, Sexton offered this:

"I appreciate receiving the letter from someone as distinguished as Eric Holder. Unfortunately, at the current time, no committee decisions have been made on special session."

The speaker said he will announce committees during the week of the special session.

Contact Andy Sher at [email protected] or 615-285-9480.