ACLU sues Montana over censure of trans lawmaker Zooey Zephyr

The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana has filed a lawsuit against the censure of Rep. Zooey Zephyr. She is a Democrat, and Montana’s very first transgender legislator.

The lawsuit claims that the actions taken by Montana’s Republican-led House of Representatives in order to silence Zephyr were a violation of Zephyr’s First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit claims that by denying Representative Zephyr her right to engage in the legislative process freely, defendants have also denied her 11,000 constituencies the right to be fully represented in their government. “Defendants’ lawless silence and Censure against Representative Zooey Zphyr extinguishes an important part of the work her constituents have elected her to perform.”

The lawsuit names the state of Montana, Rep. Matt Regier (speaker of the Montana House), and Bradley Murfitt (sergeant-at arms of the Montana House) as defendants.

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A spokesperson for Montana Attorney-General Austin Knudsen referred to the case as “political advocacy masquerading under the guise of a lawsuit.”

Emily Flower, Knudsen’s press secretary, wrote in an email that “the ACLU is trying, through the courts, to interfere with the legislative as it performs its constitutional duties for Montanans.” Any relief granted by the courts would be a gross breach of the separation between powers.

Zephyr, who was officially censured Thursday, has been banned from speaking in House debates since the 20th of April.

Zephyr was first targeted because of her vocal opposition to the bill that banned gender affirming care for children, signed Friday by Republican Governor. Greg Gianforte. Zephyr said that on April 18 during the debate over the bill that those who backed the measure had blood in their hands. He was referring to studies showing that gender affirming care could reduce the suicide rate among transgender youth.

Zephyr was censured by the government after a protest in the House Gallery on Monday. Seven people were arrested in support of Zephyr.

Before Wednesday’s vote, Republican House Majority leader Sue Vintin said, “This body saw one of its member participating in conduct which disrupted and upset the orderly proceeding of this body… placing legislators and staff at risk, and even our pages.”

Zephyr is banned from the House Floor for the remainder of the 2023 session which ends on May 5. He will only be able to vote remotely.

According to a Monday statement by the ACLU of Montana, Zephyr described her censure as “a frightening and disturbing affront against democracy itself.”

Zephyr continued, “House leadership directly and explicitly targeted me and my District because I dared speak out for the needs and values of transgender individuals like myself.” By doing this, they have denied me the right to representation under the Constitution, and more importantly the rights of my constituency.

In the lawsuit, four residents of Montana House district 100, which Zephyr represents in Montana, are listed as plaintiffs.

Dean Chou, a plaintiff, stated in a press release that he felt “alienated and disenfranchised” by the expulsion of his representative from debate. “I think Representative Zephyr is doing a great job of advocating my interests and rights on all matters, and I would like Representative Zephyr continue to do that.”

ACLU reports that since Zephyr was censured, four bills that were awaiting votes on the committees where Zephyr serves have either been transferred to another committee or elevated to House floor. This effectively eliminated all public hearings of the committee in which she had planned to participate.

The ACLU, along with its Montana chapter, has also promised to challenge a recently passed law that affirms gender in health care.