Rep. Zoe Zephyrtransgender Montana lawmaker silenced after telling Republicans they would blood on their hands for opposing gender-affirming health care for children cannot yet return to the House floor and participate in debate, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The decision came after Montana attorneys asked a judge to dismiss the transgender Zephyr attempt to return after she was silenced and then expelled for warning Republican lawmakers and encouraging a raucous protest at the statehouse.
Lawyers working under Attorney General Austin Knudsen warned that any court intervention on Zephyr’s behalf would be a flagrant violation of the separation of powers. They wrote in a court filing that the Montana House of Representatives retains “exclusive constitutional authority” to discipline its members.
Attorneys for Zephyr and several of her constituents in Missoula filed court papers Monday asking for an emergency order allowing her to return to the House for the final days of the 2023 legislative session.
Zephyr and other Democrats denounced her exclusion from the debate as an attack on free speech designed to silence her criticism of new restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors.
But state lawyers said the condemnation of Zephyr by her fellow Republicans was “for good reason” after the April 24 demonstration by her supporters.
“One legislator cannot be allowed to shut down the ability of the other 99 to engage in civil, orderly debate on issues affecting Montana,” the state’s lawyers wrote.
GOP leaders, under pressure from hard-line conservatives, initially silenced Zephyr in the debate and demanded an apology nearly two weeks ago after she said those who supported a ban on gender-affirming teen daycare would have “bloody” hands .
On April 24, Zephyr defiantly picked up a microphone on the floor of the House of Representatives when protesters in the gallery demanded she be allowed to speak and refused to leave. Seven people were arrested on trespassing charges, and two days later lawmakers voted along party lines to expel Zephyr from the floor and gallery for the rest of the session.
Since then, she has worked from a bench in the hallway, and when she was busy, in the diner in the state house.
The actions taken against Zephyr propelled her to political prominence and made her part of a wider conversation about silencing dissent in public institutions. But in Montana, Republicans hope to capitalize on her high profile by painting Democrats as a party of extremists heading into the next election.
The lawsuit to overturn her sentence was filed by attorneys working for the ACLU of Montana. It names House Speaker Matt Regier and Master Sergeant Brad Murfit as defendants.
“Certainly, the chamber is free to censure one of its own members and certainly free to make rules,” said ACLU of Montana Legal Director Alex Reith. “But it is within the jurisdiction of the court to ensure that these rules of the Constitution are followed.”