Attorneys for Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr filed a lawsuit Monday in which they asked a court to allow for her return to the House floor after she was silenced and barred for chiding her Republican colleagues over legislation to restrict gender-affirming health care and for encouraging protesters.
The lawsuit was filed in state district court in Helena on behalf of Zephyr, a transgender Democrat who represents a liberal district in the college town of Missoula, and several constituents who the attorneys said were being denied their right to adequate representation.
Zephyr, whose comments in the Montana Legislature have made her a prominent figure in transgender rights and in conversations about the muffling of dissent in statehouses, said in a statement Monday that she and her constituents were targeted “because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself.”
The legal challenge against House Speaker Matt Regier and statehouse Sergeant-at-Arms Bradley Murfitt comes with just days left in the Legislature’s biennial session. Murfitt said he would not comment on the lawsuit, and Regier did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Zephyr’s attorneys hoped to get a ruling as quickly as possible on their request for a temporary restraining order against Regier and Murfitt. One of the most important pieces of the Legislature’s work, finalizing a budget for the next two years, is unfinished.
“Every minute matters,” said Alex Rate, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and one of Zephyr’s attorneys. “Without Zephyr having her full rights and privileges restored, her 11,000 constituents are voiceless when it comes to a budget bill that impacts every corner of Montana.”
Republicans silenced Zephyr from participating in floor debates on April 18 after she said those who supported a ban on gender-affirming care for youths would have blood on their hands. Days later, she raised her microphone in defiance as demonstrators in the House gallery angrily demanded she be allowed to speak, leading to seven arrests and Zephyr’s banishment from the House floor.
Republicans moved to sideline Zephyr further by shutting down the two committees on which she serves and moving the bills they were to hear to other committees, Democratic Rep. Donavon Hawk said in a statement.
She spent the first day of her exile last week battling to use a bench in a Statehouse hallway. Her key card to access Capitol entrances, bathrooms and party workspaces was deactivated, according to the lawsuit.
Zephyr’s situation echoed the ouster this year of two Tennessee lawmakers from that state’s legislature for a protest over gun policy.
In retaliating against Zephyr, Montana Republicans accused her of crossing a line that is faint at best in political debate. It’s not uncommon for legislators wading into heated issues like abortion or gun rights to be scolded about “blood on your hands” by protesters or even fellow representatives.
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