Judge rejects trans Montana lawmaker Zooey Zephyr’s effort to regain seat after being barred from legislature

ACLU of Montana says it might appeal ruling

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Wednesday 03 May 2023 11:10 BST
Montana transgender lawmaker barred by GOP from House floor

Zooey Zephyr, the transgenderMontana lawmaker who was barred last week from the state House of Representatives for her protests against a gender-affirming healthcare ban, will not be able to regain full access to her seat, a county judge ruled on Tuesday.

On Monday, Rep Zephyr, who incensed Republican colleagues by telling them the ban meant they had “blood on their hands,” sued the House’s GOP Speaker, arguing the expulsion violated her and her constituents’ constitutional rights.

Lewis and Clark County District Court judge Mike Menahan ruled on Tuesday that the judicial branch "does not have the authority” to reverse a disciplinary decision of the state legislature, holding that such a remedy “far outpaces the facts at issue here,” according to the Helena Independent Record.

Earlier in the day, state officials made similar arguments.

Attorneys for Montana said in a court filing that the House’s decision was within the “exclusive constitutional authority” of the legislature.

“One legislator cannot be allowed to halt the ability of the other 99 to engage in civil, orderly, debate concerning issues affecting Montana,” the state’s lawyers wrote, according to the Associated Press.

The ACLU of Montana, which brought the suit alongside Rep Zephyr and her constituents, told The Independent, “All options, including a potential appeal, remain on the table.”

“We are extremely disappointed,” Alex Rate, the group’s legal director, said in an email. “It cannot be the case that two-thirds of a legislative body can strip an individual of her constitutional rights.  We are seeing the foundations of our democracy being dismantled brick by brick.”

The controversy at issue dates back to late April, when Rep Zephyr, the first elected transgender lawmaker in state history, told colleagues their support for a ban on gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, which later passed, meant they had “blood on their hands.”

(Medical experts and activists say such care is a lifeline for young LGBTQ+ people, who are often vulnerable to suicide and depression.)

The following week, as GOP lawmakers refused to recognise the Missoula Democrat, supporters rallied in the state capitol.

Rep Zephyr silently held her non-functional microphone aloft as they chanted, “Let her speak!”

Seven people were arrested on misdemeanour trespassing charges during the protest. Law enforcement said they saw no sign of violence or property damage among the demonstrators.

Last Wednesday, the House voted on party lines to bar Rep Zephyr from the statehouse floor, and since then she’s worked from a bench in a hallway or at the capitol snack bar, where she votes remotely but hasn’t been part of any spoken debate.

Barring a new result at appeal, Tuesday’s ruling likely means that Rep Zephyr won’t be reinstated before the House closes its 90-day legislative session. The state Senate has already declared itself done for the season.

As The Independent reported, observers see the campaign to bar Rep Zephyr from the House as part of a larger attack on trans people in the state of Montana, where legislators have proposed bills that would ban drag shows, allow for the deadnaming and misgendering of trans youth, redefine gender and strip anti-discrimination protections from state law, and allow medical providers to deny people care for personal reasons.

“These bills are aimed at impacting every aspect of life for the trans, nonbinary and two-spirit communities,” Shawn Reagor of the Montana Human Rights Network told The Independent, referring to a spectrum of gender identities and presentations within various indigenous nations.

“They go from how we are born to how we’re identified in our death. They are deeply concerning. We’re simply trying to live our lives and be able to flourish as we have been for centuries. The idea that Republicans are trying to use us as a political pawn to gain points with extremists in their base is deeply disturbing.”

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