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Montana Judge Denies Zooey Zephyr's Suit to Lift Censure

District Court Judge Mike Menahan said intervening in the matter would violate the separation of powers

A judge in Montana has refused to grant Missoula Representative Zooey Zephyr’s request to return to the state House floor after being censured for telling fellow lawmakers they would have blood on their hands if they voted to restrict medical treatments offer to minors with gender identity-related concerns.

District Court Judge Mike Menahan ruled on May 2 that intervening to strike down the censure would violate the separation 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 in his ruling, per the Montana Free Press. “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.”

Zephyr, a biological man who identifies as a transgender woman, was barred from speaking for the state as the result of graphic comments the representative made during a debate over Senate Bill 99, which restricts the forms of medical intervention, both surgical and hormonal, that can be offered to minors who identify as transgender or who are experiencing gender dysphoria.

Protestors disrupted a legislative session on April 24 and demanded Zephyr be permitted to speak. Although representatives were directed to move to the sides of the chamber for their safety, Zephyr stood in the middle of the floor and held a microphone in the air. The Helena Police Department and Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office Civil Disobedience Team ultimately intervened and seven people were arrested

The Montana Legislature voted in favor of the censure, affirming a statement from Speaker Matt Regier, Speaker Pro Tem Rhonda Knudsen and Majority Leader Sue Vinton that said Zephyr’s conduct during the protest “violated the rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, or decorum of the House of Representatives.” 

Zephyr is permitted to vote on bills and attend sessions remotely, but cannot attend sessions or engage in debate until the current session ends in May. The representative and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Montana on May 1 arguing the censure violated the First Amendment. 

“Montana voters elect their Representatives to fully engage with the democratic process at the State Capitol,” states the lawsuit. “Representatives also are elected to use of the floor of the House to pursue their constituents’ interests and views—using the platform provided by the People’s House to educate and persuade their colleagues and the public through speech, debate, and lobbying. … By depriving Representative Zephyr of her right to freely engage with the legislative process, Defendants have also deprived her 11,000 constituents of the right to full representation in their government.”

Zephyr called Menahan’s decision “entirely wrong.”

“It’s a really sad day for the country when the majority party can silence representation from the minority party whenever they take issue,” Zephyr told AP News

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen released a statement through a spokesperson calling Menahan’s decision “a win for the rule of law and the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution,” per PBS.

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