A Helena district court judge on Tuesday denied Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s motion to temporarily block enforcement of House Republicans’ discipline against her — a punishment last week that banished her from the House chamber and barred her from debating legislation on the floor. The Missoula Democrat can still vote remotely and has been doing so from a makeshift workspace roughly 20 feet down the hall from the chamber.
The ACLU of Montana and two private law firms filed suit Friday on behalf of Zephyr and four of her constituents, claiming the actions of House Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, and House Sergeant at Arms Brad Murfitt violate their constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection under the law.
The sanction came after Zephyr made comments on the House floor against Senate Bill 99, a ban on gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. She said that lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill would see blood on their hands, a reference to the increased risks of suicide for young people without access to medical treatments for gender dysphoria.
House Republicans bar Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr for breaching decorum
The Montana House of Representatives has voted on party lines to discipline Missoula Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr, barring her from the chamber’s floor, anteroom and gallery for the remaining few days of the 68th Montana Legislature.
Regier subsequently refused to recognize Zephyr on the House floor for multiple days, saying he was acting to uphold decorum in the chamber. Last Monday, Zephyr’s constituents and supporters protested from the House gallery when she was again ignored, leading to police, including some with face shields and batons, clearing the gallery and arresting seven protesters. Throughout the action, Zephyr remained standing by her seat, holding her microphone in the air, a display House Republicans later said encouraged protesters. The House voted to bar Zephyr from the House floor two days later in a party-line vote, 68-32.
Zephyr’s lawsuit asked that the discipline against her be unenforced for the remainder of the session and that she be allowed to speak on the House floor, an immediate remedy for what the lawsuit alleged was an irreparable harm.
District Court Judge Mike Menahan, a former Democratic lawmaker, panned the requested solutions in his Friday ruling, saying the plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their case and that the suggested intervention would be a breach of the separations of powers.
“Plaintiffs’ 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,” Menahan wrote.
“Even if the Court ultimately finds the House of Representatives, Speaker Regier, and Sergeant at Arms Murfitt acted unlawfully under the facts of this case, 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,” the judge continued.
Regier celebrated the ruling in a statement issued through a spokesperson late Tuesday.
“The 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. The House is continuing its work for the people of Montana,” Regier said.
Zephyr slammed the ruling in a statement posted to Twitter Friday night, promising to continue fighting to represent her constituents.
“The court’s decision not to reinstate me undermines the democratic principles our country was founded on,” she wrote. “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.”
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