A judge determined on Tuesday that Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the transgender Montana lawmaker who threatened Republicans with having blood on their hands if they opposed gender-affirming health care for children and was later silenced, cannot yet return to the statehouse House floor and take part in the debate.
After being silenced and exiled for criticizing Republican lawmakers and inciting a boisterous statehouse protest, transse*ual Zephyr’s attorneys for the state of Montana petitioned the judge to deny her request to return, and the judge agreed.
Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s legal team warned that any judicial involvement on Zephyr’s behalf would be a flagrant infraction of the division of powers.
The Montana House of Representatives has “exclusive constitutional authority” to penalize its own members, they claimed in a court filing.
On Monday, lawyers for Zephyr and several of her Missoula constituents filed court documents asking for an urgent injunction allowing her to return to the House floor for the last days of the 2023 legislative session.
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Zephyr and other Democrats have blasted her absence from floor discussions as a violation of her right to free expression that aims to silence her criticism of the new limitations on care for gender-affirming youngsters.
In contrast, state attorneys claimed that Zephyr’s Republican colleagues’ reprimand of her was “for good cause” in light of the April 24 protest by her supporters.
The state’s attorneys argued, “One legislator cannot be allowed to halt the ability of the other 99 to engage in civil, orderly, debate concerning issues affecting Montana.”
Zephyr was first barred from participating in floor debates by GOP leaders under pressure from hard-line conservatives after she claimed that people who backed a ban on gender-affirming child care would have “blood” on their hands. This occurred roughly two weeks ago.
On the House floor on April 24, Zephyr lifted the microphone in defiance of demonstrators who were clamoring for her to be given the floor and refused to follow orders to leave.
Following the trespassing arrests of seven people, Zephyr was booted off the floor and the gallery for the remainder of the session by a bipartisan vote of the legislature two days later.
Since then, she has worked from a bench in a hallway and, when that has been taken, from a snack bar in the statehouse.
A tweet from Jon Cooper’s official Twitter account:
BREAKING: Montana Republicans just BARRED transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr from speaking on the state House floor.
Not for a day. Not for a week… for the entire YEAR. All for refusing to back down on her words supporting trans kids.
More updates coming below, but for… pic.twitter.com/5txzUQrenC
— Jon Cooper (@joncoopertweets) April 26, 2023
Zephyr’s rise to political prominence and inclusion in broader discussions about the suppression of dissent in state legislatures are directly related to the actions taken against her.
But in Montana, Republicans want to take advantage of her popularity by portraying Democrats as an extremist party before the next election.
Attorneys working for the Montana ACLU filed the action to overturn her sentencing. It names Brad Murfitt, the sergeant-at-arms, and House Speaker Matt Regier defendants.
“The House of course is free to censure one of its own members and it’s of course free to adopt rules,” said Montana ACLU legal director Alex Rate. “But it is the province of the court to ensure those rules abide by the Constitution.”
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