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Judge deals blow to Tennessee House Republicans on sign ban

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A Tennessee judge ruled against state House Republicans on Monday, striking down a new decorum rule that House members had enacted last week to restrict members of the public from bringing signs into proceedings during its special legislative session.

Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin wrote in her order that the controversial decorum rule will remain blocked for the remainder of the special session dealing with public safety in the state, which was called upon by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in light of The Covenant School shooting earlier this year.

A temporary injunction on the decorum rule was issued after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Tennessee last Wednesday, which sued Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton among others on behalf of three women who were thrown out of a House subcommittee hearing for holding up 8.5-by-11-inch paper signs that read “1 KID > ALL THE GUNS.”

Judge Deals Blow to Tennessee House Republicans
Spectators in the gallery of the House chamber wave signs during a special session at the Tennessee State Capitol on August 21 in Nashville, Tennessee. A state judge ruled on Monday that a decorum rule that prohibits signs from being brought by the public into legislative proceedings during the special session was likely unconstitutional.
Jon Cherry/Getty Images

“Although the Court appreciates the General Assembly’s desire to maintain decorum and prevent disruptions in its proceedings, the Court cannot conclude that the rule banning signs is reasonable in light of the purpose it could legitimately serve,” Martin wrote in her order Monday. “The rule is so broad that it encompasses behavior that is not disruptive, as is the case here.”

A video of the moment that the three women—Allison Polidor, Erica Bowton and Maryam Abolfazli—were thrown out by state troopers during a session held by the Tennessee House Civil Justice subcommittee attracted national attention last week. The ACLU argued in its suit that banning signs violated the plaintiffs’ right to free speech, while Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Cody Brandon, who represented House Republican leaders during a hearing on the lawsuit Monday, said that House galleries were subject to different constitutional standards.

Martin’s ruling was celebrated by Tennessee state Representative Justin Pearson, a Democrat representing parts of the city of Memphis. The young lawmaker, who was reelected to his district after facing expulsion earlier this year after Republicans said he broke decorum rules, was temporarily silenced on the House floor Monday after GOP members accused him of breaking the new decorum rules set for the special session, reported The Tennessean.

“Thank God for justice rolling into the State House in spite of the abuse of power by the republican party,” Pearson wrote on his X account, the platform formerly known as Twitter, in light of Martin’s order. “The People will not be silenced and signs demanding we ‘DO SOMETHING and PROTECT KIDS, NOT GUNS’ are back! #Protect1A!”

Newsweek reached out to Sexton’s office via email for comment.



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