Judge rejects trans lawmaker Zooey Zephyr’s effort to return to Montana House

A judge ruled that Rep. Zooey Zeffir, a transgender Montana legislator who was silenced for telling Republicans that they would have their blood on their hands if they opposed gender-affirming healthcare for children, could not return to the House floor of the statehouse and take part in the debate.

Zephyr was denied her return after lawyers for the state of Montana requested that the judge reject Zephyr’s application. She was first silenced and then expelled last week after admonishing Republican legislators and encouraging an raucous protest at the statehouse.

District Court Judge Mike Menahan stated that it was not within his authority to overrule a legislative decision and return Zephyr back to the House.

Menahan, in his five-page decision, wrote that such a move would “require this court to intervene with legislative authority in a way that exceeds its authority.”

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Zephyr said to The Associated Press the decision was “totally wrong.”

Zephyr stated, “It is a sad day for our country when the major party can silence the minor party’s representation whenever it raises an issue.”

Lawyers under the Attorney General Austin Knudsen warned that any intervention of the courts in Zephyr’s behalf would be an egregious violation of separation of powers. In a court document, they wrote that the Montana House of Representatives has “exclusive constitutional authority to discipline” its members.

Knudsen is a Republican who issued a statement via a spokesperson claiming that the lawsuit was an effort by outside groups to interfer with Montana’s legislative process.

He said that the decision was a victory for the separation of power and rule of law enshrined by our Constitution.

Alex Rate, an attorney for Zephyr said that an appeal is being considered. The 2023 legislative session will soon be over, so any ruling made in the coming days is of little immediate importance.

Zephyr, along with several Missoula residents, filed court papers on Monday seeking an urgent order that would allow her to return to her seat in the House for the last days of the legislative session of 2023.

Zephyr, along with her fellow Democrats, have denounced the exclusion of her from floor debates. They claim that it is an attack on freedom of speech and a way to silence Zephyr’s criticisms about new restrictions for gender affirming care.

Lawyers for the state, however, said that the censure given to Zephyr’s Republican colleagues “was justified” after the demonstration of her supporters on April 24, 2004.

The state’s attorneys wrote that “one legislator cannot be allowed a halt to the ability of other 99 to engage civilly and orderly in debate about issues affecting Montana.”

Under pressure from conservative hardliners, GOP leaders initially prevented Zephyr from taking part in debates on the floor and demanded that she apologize nearly two weeks ago after she claimed those who supported an outright ban on gender affirming care for children would have “blood on their hands.”

Zephyr defied protesters who demanded her to be allowed to speak on the House Floor. She refused to leave. Seven people were arrested for trespassing and two days after that, lawmakers voted on party lines to remove Zephyr and her microphone from the House floor.

Since then, she’s worked from a seat in a hall and, when this was occupied, a snack bar at the statehouse.

Zephyr’s actions have made her a political star and she is now part of the larger conversation about the muzzling of dissent at statehouses. In Montana, Republicans are hoping to take advantage of her popularity by portraying Democrats as extremists heading into the next elections.

Attorneys working for the Montana ACLU filed the lawsuit to reverse her sentence. The lawsuit named House Speaker Matt Regier, Sergeant-at Arms Brad Murfitt and others as defendants.