A judge rejected a bid by state Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D-Missoula), a transgender lawmaker who assailed colleagues over legislation that would ban transgender surgeries for minors, to immediately return to the Montana House floor following a censure.
In a ruling on Tuesday, District Court Judge Mike Menahan said the “requested relief would require this Court to interfere with legislative authority in a manner that exceeds this Court’s authority. Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief which far outpaces the facts at issue here,” according to the Montana Free Press.
Even if the court finds the defendants “acted unlawfully under the facts of this case,” the judge added, “it does not have the authority to issue a broad permanent injunction to effectively remove all legislative authority under Article V Section 10 [of the Montana Constitution] in relation to a single member.”
Zephyr, who sued along with Missoula County constituents, said in a tweet the court’s decision “undermines the democratic principles our country was founded on” and vowed to “continue standing for my constituents & community to fight for our democratic institutions.”
“If we can’t get justice in the courts, we will get it in the ballot box,” Zephyr said, alluding to a re-election bid.
The court's decision not to reinstate me undermines the democratic principles our country was founded on.
I vow to continue standing for my constituents & community to fight for our democratic institutions. If we can't get justice in the courts, we will get it in the ballot box. pic.twitter.com/cBgXOnIX8K
— Rep. Zooey Zephyr (@ZoAndBehold) May 2, 2023
The lawsuit filed on Monday came on the heels of the GOP-led Montana House voting last week to bar Zephyr, a biological man who identifies as a woman, from attending or speaking at floor sessions after the lawmaker held up a microphone as supporters disrupted the proceedings in the Montana House chamber while chanting, “Let her speak!” The commotion led to several arrests.
Protesters chanted, "LET HER SPEAK" at a Montana House Session, while Rep. Zooey Zephyr held a microphone in the air. Republican leaders in the legislature doubled down on their decision to continue to forbid her from participating in debate.
Full Story: https://t.co/ABth9kV3N3 pic.twitter.com/IqabIkO07h
— NBC Montana (@NBCMontana) April 24, 2023
That standoff took place as Republican leadership refused to recognize Zephyr to speak, citing violations of decorum rules after Zephyr lashed out at other lawmakers who support legislation that would crack down on transgender surgeries for minors.
“I hope the next time there’s an invocation when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” Zephyr had said, referring to the opening prayer.
'If you use decorum to silence people who hold you accountable, all you are doing is using decorum as a tool of oppression.'
Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) defended herself from possible disciplinary action in Montana's state House after she spoke out over an anti-transgender bill. pic.twitter.com/5EwgXMYYjp
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) April 26, 2023
Republican Governor Greg Gianforte signed the bill into law on Friday.
The censure punished Zephyr for the remainder of the current legislative session, but still allowed Zephyr to vote remotely. The complaint argued Zephyr was being silenced when the Montana House was set to consider “critical legislation” on the state’s budget.
The lawsuit sought to immediately and then permanently undo the “unconstitutional” censure. Lawyers for the plaintiffs listed the state of Montana, Montana House Speaker Matt Regier, and Montana House Sergeant-at-Arms Bradley Murfitt as defendants.
State lawyers argued against the push for an emergency motion, saying the censure was for “good cause,” according to the Associated Press. “One legislator cannot be allowed to halt the ability of the other 99 to engage in civil, orderly, debate concerning issues affecting Montana,” they also said.
Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, said the judge’s ruling on Tuesday “is a win for the rule of law and the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution,” per The Wall Street Journal. Regier said “Montana courts have recognized that the Judicial Branch has no power to revise or overrule the power expressly held by the Montana State Legislature to conduct its business,” according to Scripps.