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From 2000 to present, PolitiFact found fewer than 20 instances in which lawmakers were expelled from legislatures in all 50 states.
Experts said expulsion is typically reserved for serious and often criminal offenses.
To discipline members who break the rules, legislatures often use less drastic measures such as stripping them of their committee ranks and assignments or publicly reprimanding them with a censure.
How common is it for state legislators to expel their members? Not common at all, according to a PolitiFact review of 23 years of such cases.
We searched Google, news archives and databases and found 19 instances of legislators being expelled going back to 2000, across all 50 states.
People have been expelled amid sexual harassment scandals, bribery allegations and criminal arrests and convictions. Until April 6, none of the instances involved a member being expelled for violating chamber decorum rules.
"Most expulsions have involved criminal conduct or abusive behavior," said Miriam Seifter, a University of Wisconsin Law School professor and co-director of the State Democracy Research Initiative.
Frequently, if allegations of wrongdoing are credible and expulsion seems imminent, a legislator will resign, said Thomas Little, director of curriculum development and research for the State Legislative Leaders Foundation.
Lawmakers rarely want to go through the expulsion process or put the chamber through it. "It doesn’t look good for the institution," Little said.
PolitiFact found that credible evidence of bribery, fraud, sexual harassment or sexual abuse or misconduct were among the most common reasons lawmakers have been expelled in recent years.
The Tennessee House of Representatives on April 6 voted to expel two Tennessee lawmakers for violating rules of the House chamber.
Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, and Rep. Justin J. Pearson, D-Memphis, were expelled by the Republican-controlled legislature following their actions during a March 30 protest at the Capitol against gun violence. Jones and Pearson took over the lectern and led chants on the House floor that were echoed by the protesters gathered in the public galleries.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, who protested alongside Jones and Pearson, also faced expulsion, but that resolution failed by one vote. Johnson is white. Jones and Pearson are Black.
President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter that the effort to expel the Democrats was "shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent."
Three kids and three officials gunned down in yet another mass shooting.— President Biden (@POTUS) April 6, 2023
And what are GOP officials focused on?
Punishing lawmakers who joined thousands of peaceful protesters calling for action.
It's shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent. https://t.co/NB9gSdFI9h
Little told PolitiFact that he’d never seen an expulsion for breaking the rules of the chamber.
"I’ve seen people censured for breaking the rules, if you continue to speak out of order or something like that," he said.
A legislature can discipline members by stripping them of any leadership positions they might hold, including roles as committee chair, by stripping them of their committee assignments, or by censure, which is a public reprimand, Little said. Those less extreme measures typically are used before expulsion.
Richard Briffault, a professor of legislation at Columbia Law School, said he was "struck by the complete lack of process" that occurred before the expulsions in Tennessee.
"The vote to expel came almost immediately after the protest," without an investigation or a hearing, he wrote in an email. "There was also no consideration of alternative penalties — a fine, stripping of committee assignments, resolution of censure."
The partisanship shaping this vote was also unique, Little said. He said historically, expulsions are bipartisan actions — even if one or two people vote against expelling a member — because they’re so often tied to a criminal offense.
Briffault said he was concerned the Tennessee case may set a precedent that lowers the expulsion bar from criminal misconduct to lack of decorum.
"The legislature has a legitimate interest in maintaining the decorum necessary to function, but denying representation to the constituents of these legislators is an extreme reaction," he said.
The expulsions were short-lived: In a quick 36-0 vote on April 10, Nashville’s Metropolitan Council reappointed Jones to his seat. He was sworn in once again that day. The Shelby County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously April 12 to reappoint Pearson as a state representative; he was sworn back in April 13.
Their appointments are temporary, however, and special elections will occur in the coming months; Jones and Pearson have said they plan to run again.
Little doesn’t expect to see partisan expulsions become the norm, in part because of the national attention this incident has received: "I think this has given Tennessee such a black eye, that I think it would be very unlikely" to see expulsion used this way in other states, he said.
Seifter agreed, arguing that politically motivated expulsions would likely mobilize opponents. But she said she sees the incident as "part of a bigger story of antidemocratic action in state legislatures."
Setting aside the unique case of Jones and Pearson in Tennessee, here are the expulsions we found since 2000, listed alphabetically by state:
Republican Rep. Liz Harris, who represented Chandler, a Phoenix suburb, was expelled by the Republican-majority House after a 46-13 vote April 12. Harris supported debunked election conspiracies, and her expulsion came after an ethics panel investigation found that she engaged in "disorderly behavior" when she organized a presentation that resulted in her colleagues being accused of bribes.
In February 2018, the Arizona House of Representatives voted to expel Rep. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, from his seat after an investigation found "credible evidence" that he had sexually harassed women over several years and created a hostile work environment in the House.
In October 2019, the Arkansas House Caucus expelled Rep. Mickey Gates, R-Hot Springs, with an 88-4 vote, after Gates pleaded no contest to failing to pay taxes for several years.
Lawmakers in Colorado voted 52-9 in March 2018 to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, who was elected to represent Thornton as a Democrat and later switched parties, in response to allegations of sexual harassment. An outside investigation deemed the allegations five women made against Lebsock credible.
In August 2012, the Illinois House voted 100-6 to expel Rep. Derrick Smith, a Chicago Democrat, over bribery allegations. Smith had been arrested for allegedly accepting a $7,000 cash bribe to write an official letter of support. He was reelected after his 2012 expulsion and automatically lost his office again when he was convicted on the felony bribery charge.
The Massachusetts’ House voted 146-5 in February 2014 to expel Rep. Carlos Henriquez, D-Boston. Henriquez was serving a six-month jail sentence following an assault conviction and had refused to resign.
In April 2021, Rep. Rick Roeber, R-Lee’s Summit, was expelled after a Missouri House Ethics Committee investigation found he had physically and sexually abused his children. Roeber had offered to resign, but the House rejected his resignation and instead voted 153-0 to expel him.
Assemblyman Steve Brooks, D-North Las Vegas, in 2013 became the first person ever expelled from the Nevada legislature. Brooks’ expulsion followed a recommendation from a committee that had been asked to assess his ability to serve the public; Brooks was arrested the same day he was expelled.
In February 2010, the New York State Senate expelled Sen. Hiram Monserrate, a Democrat from Queens, by a 53-8 vote, after Monserrate had been found guilty of misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend.
Following an investigation triggered by a 2006 complaint to the State Board of Elections, the North Carolina legislature voted in 2008 to expel former Rep. Thomas Wright, D-New Hanover. Wright was later convicted and sentenced to several years in prison for three counts of felony fraud.
In March 2021, Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, became the first lawmaker expelled from the legislature in the state’s history. He was accused of threatening and sexually harassing women at the Capitol, including fellow lawmakers. The vote to expel Simons was 69-25, with strong support from his own party.
The Republican-controlled House voted 75-21 in June 2021 to expel Republican Rep. Larry Householder, a former House speaker from Glenford who had been arrested in connection with a $60 million public corruption racketeering conspiracy.
In June 2021, Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, became the first person expelled from the Oregon House by 59-1 vote after it was revealed that he had allowed far-right demonstrators, some of whom were armed, into the locked state Capitol building during a special session.
Democrat Sen. Katrina Robinson of Memphis, who was convicted of federal wire fraud charges, in 2022 became the first person ever expelled from the Tennessee Senate.
In 2016, the House expelled Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, by a 70-2 vote over allegations of sexual misconduct.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
Interview with Thomas Little, Director of Curriculum Development and Research for the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, April 11, 2023
Email interview with Richard Briffault, Joseph P. Chamberlain professor of legislation at Columbia Law School, April 11, 2023
Email interview with Carrie Russell, a lawyer and political science senior lecturer at Vanderbilt University, April 12, 2023
Email interview with Miriam Seifter, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and co-director of the State Democracy Research Initiative, April 12, 2023
The Tennessean, Tennessee legislative expulsions: From sexual misconduct to opposing rights of former slaves, April 4, 2023
Tennessee Lookout, House Speaker equates Nashville’s peaceful protests against gun violence with Jan. 6 insurrection, March 31, 2023
Tennessee Lookout, Chaos erupts at Tennessee Capitol over demand for gun safety measures, March 30, 2023
Tennessee Lookout, From grief to action in Nashville, protesters demand change at the state capitol, March 30, 2023
CBS News, Hundreds protest at Tennessee Capitol for tighter gun controls after Nashville shooting, March 30, 2023
The Washington Post, Nashville council reinstates Black Tennessee lawmaker, April 10, 2023
The Washington Post, Tennessee House expels two Democrats in historic act of partisan retaliation, April 7, 2023
Tennessee General Assembly, HR0065, accessed April 10, 2023
Tennessee General Assembly, HR0064, accessed April 10, 2023
Tennessee General Assembly, HR0063, accessed April 10, 2023
Tennessee Constitution, accessed April 13, 2023
WSMV, Justin Jones sworn back into House after expulsion, April 10, 2023
WKRN, ‘Tennessee Three’: Motion to expel Rep. Gloria Johnson fails by one vote, April 6, 2023
WXII 12, Expelled NC House member released from prison, May 26, 2014
WECT News 6, Wright Expelled From the 2007 House, March 20, 2008
WECT News 6, Thomas Wright Sentenced, April 7, 2008
Connecticut General Assembly, Office of Legislative Research report: Disciplinary actions in other states’ legislative bodies, Oct. 2, 2007
AZCentral, Arizona House expels Rep. Don Shooter, citing 'dishonorable' pattern of workplace harassment, Feb. 1, 2018
City News Everywhere, Investigation: Arizona lawmaker broke sex harassment rules, Jan. 30, 201
ABC 7, Arkansas lawmaker pleads no contest to not filing taxes, July 29, 2019
ABC 7, Rep. Mickey Gates expelled from Arkansas House in historic vote, Oct. 11, 2019
Arkansas Money and Politics, In Overwhelming Vote, Arkansas House Opts to Expel Mickey Gates, Oct. 11, 2019
CPR News, Lebsock Expelled From Colorado House Following Marathon Harassment Debate, March 2, 2018
Denver 7 ABC, Colorado Rep. Steve Lebsock expelled from state House over sexual harassment, March 2, 2018
The Associated Press, Illinois House expels Democrat Derrick Smith, Aug. 17, 2012
Huffpost, Derrick Smith Expulsion: Indicted Illinois State Lawmaker Gets The Boot In Historic Vote, Aug. 17, 2012
Illinois Policy, State Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, convicted of taking $7,000 bribe, June 10, 2014
NOLA.com, He's the only person ever expelled from the Louisiana Senate, Feb. 18, 2017
CBS News, Mass. House Expels Rep. Carlos Henriquez, Feb. 6, 2014
NPR, Michigan Lawmaker Quits, Another Is Expelled Over Bizarre Sex Scandal, Sept. 11, 2015
Reuters, Michigan House panel recommends expelling two representatives, Sept. 10, 2015
The Detroit Free Press, In history, 3 Michigan lawmakers expelled, Sept. 10, 2015
The Detroit News, Ex-state Sen. Jaye gets plea deal in Macomb County, Sept. 26, 2014
MLive, Expulsion a rare but real option for Michigan Reps. Todd Courser, Cindy Gamrat, Sept. 7, 2015
The Associated Press, Mississippi rep cleared in abuse case won’t be expelled, Feb. 21, 2020
The New York Times, Missouri Lawmaker Is Expelled Over Child Abuse Accusations, April 21, 2021
The Associated Press, Missouri House expels lawmaker accused of abusing his kids, April 21, 2021
Reno Gazette Journal, Brooks' expulsion, patient-dumping scandal and a left-leaning Legislature lead Nevada's top political stories of 2013, Dec. 26, 2013
Las Vegas Review-Journal, Counsel denies public access to report on ex-Assemblyman Brooks, April 6, 2013
The New York Times, Nevada Legislator Expelled, Then Arrested, as His Life Unravels for the Public to See, March 29, 2013
Reuters, New York Senate expels senator over assault, Feb. 10, 2010
The Dickinson Press, North Dakota House expels Rep. Luke Simons after sexual harassment allegations, March 4, 2021
The Associated Press, North Dakota House expels lawmaker accused of misconduct, March 4, 2021
The Associated Press, Ohio House expels former Republican speaker in historic vote, June 16, 2021
Statehouse News Bureau, Ohio House Speaker Arrested In Case Related To Nuclear Power Plant Bailout Law, July 21, 2020
Reuters, Oregon lawmakers expel colleague for abetting armed intruders, June 11, 2021
OPB, Oregon House expels state Rep. Mike Nearman, plotter of state Capitol incursion, June 10, 2021
Oregon Live, Oregon Rep. Mike Nearman expelled from Legislature in historic 59-1 rebuke, June 11, 2021
The Washington Post, Expelled Black lawmaker Pearson to return to Tennessee House, April 12, 2023
The Associated Press, Black lawmaker who was expelled reinstated to Tennessee seat, April 10, 2023
The Tennessean, Tennessee legislative expulsions: From sexual misconduct to opposing rights of former slaves, April 4, 2023
Knox News, Jeremy Durham expelled from Tennessee House in 70-2 vote, Sept. 13, 2016
The Tennessean, Tennessee Senate expels Sen. Katrina Robinson from legislature, a first for the chamber, Feb. 2, 2022
NBC News, GOP-controlled Arizona House votes to expel Republican member, April 12, 2023
The Associated Press, Arizona House expels GOP lawmaker over unproven claims, April 12, 2023
Tweet from President Joe Biden, April 6, 2023
ABC News, Tennessee lawmaker expulsions: Has this happened before? April 7, 2023
NPR, Tennessee House votes to expel 2 of 3 Democratic members over gun protest, April 6, 2023
NBC News, Ousted Tennessee lawmaker Pearson sworn back in to the state Legislature, April 13, 2023
The Michigan Daily, News Analysis: Jaye case shrouded in haze, May 20, 2001
Star News Online, Rep. Wright campaigning for No. 2 spot, Feb. 12, 2003
United States Department of Justice, Ohio House Speaker, former chair of Ohio Republican Party, 3 other individuals & 501(c)(4) entity charged in federal public corruption racketeering conspiracy involving $60 million, July 21, 2020