Court Rejects Lawsuit Filed by ACLU Challenging Censure of Montana Rep. Zooey Zephyr

By Kaylee Pearlman

HELENA, MT – The ACLU of Montana filed a lawsuit this week challenging the censure of Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr, who was censured by Republicans last week for telling them they would have blood on their hands for opposing gender surgery for children.

But, Tuesday, a judge in a court ruling in Montana said he couldn’t help Zephyr, a state lawmaker who identifies as a female, return to the state House floor, reported FoxNews.

District Court Judge Mike Menahan rejected Zephyr’s request to return after lawyers for the state of Montana asked a judge to rule. Menahan said he didn’t have the authority to overrule the legislature and return Zephyr to the House floor, said FoxNews.

The Associated Press said the issue is moot now because Montana wrapped up its legislative session this week, and it only meets once every two years. Rep. Zephyr would have to be reelected in 2024 to return to the statehouse.

According to the ACLU, the lawsuit alleges “recent actions undertaken by House leadership to silence Representative Zephyr are a violation of her own First Amendment rights.”

“The only thing I will say is, if you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” Zephyr said when debating SB99 the previous week.

When she wouldn’t apologize to critics, Republicans led a 68-32 vote to bar Zephyr from accessing the House floor. Zephyr cannot enter the anteroom or gallery but can vote remotely. She has worked, according to news reports, from a bench outside the chambers, or a snack bar when the bench is occupied.

According to the ACLU, “between April 20 and April 24, 2023, House leadership repeatedly refused to recognize Rep. Zephyr, the state’s only openly transgender lawmaker, in all official proceedings.” The ACLU noted after April 24 that “protests from Rep. Zephyr’s constituents demanded she be allowed to speak…”

“House Speaker Regier voted to formally censure Rep. Zephyr on April 26, physically excluding her from the grounds of the State Capitol and denying her the right to engage in debate on important matters of public policy,” the ACLU wrote, adding Zephyr showed up to work on April 26 and, “she was told she could not enter the House chamber.”

This censure “effectively denies her constituents adequate representation in their own state government. The censure unfairly and unconstitutionally targeted Rep. Zephyr for voicing her objection to SB 99,”the ACLU argued.

According to the ACLU, SB 99 is “a ban on the rights of transgender youth and their families to access gender-affirming health care since signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte.”

Zephyr said that “this effort by House leadership to silence me and my constituents is a disturbing and terrifying affront to democracy itself. House leadership explicitly and directly targeted me and my district because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself.”

“By doing so…They’ve denied me my own rights under the Constitution and…the rights of my constituents to just representation in their own government…the Montana State House is the people’s House, not Speaker Regier’s, and I’m determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard,” Zephyr added.

Dean Chou, a resident of Montana House District 100, stated, according to the ACLU press statement, “I feel alienated and disenfranchised to have my representative expelled from debate. Representative Zephyr is my representative on all issues…I believe [she] has done an effective job advocating for my interests and my rights on all issues, and I want [her] to continue to do so.”

“Suicide amongst transgender youth is not imaginary,” Anna Wong, another district voter, according to the ACLU. “It is not a game and it is not a political foil. It is real. It is heartbreaking.”

Wong continues, “It is the responsibility of my representative to speak out against bills promoting it. I expected Representative Zephyr to oppose it…her comments leading to expulsion from the House floor…seem incredibly measured and muted compared to the severity of the situation.”

Alex Rate, the legal director of the ACLU of Montana, stated, “Representative Zephyr was elected by the people of her district after running on the very principles she is now being punished for defending.”

Rate continues, “[I]n his craven pursuit to deny transgender youth and their families the health care they need, Speaker Regier has unfairly, unjustly and unconstitutionally silenced those voters by silencing their representative. His actions are a direct threat to the bedrock principles that uphold our entire democracy.”

About The Author

Kaylee is a senior at CSU Long Beach majoring in Criminal Justice. She is interested in the law and passionate about social justice! Following her graduation, she plans on returning to school to get a B.S. in psychology. In the future, she strives to become a criminal psychologist.

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1 Comment

  1. Walter Shwe

    I commend Representative Zephyr for refusing to remain silent on the issue of LGBTQ human and civil rights and her bravery on calling it like it is. I hope the voters re-elect her and she winds up in the next legislative session being the Republicans’ worst nightmare.

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