HELENA - The ACLU of Montana and residents of Montana House District 100 are seeking to challenge the disciplinary action taken against State Representative Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, by the Montana House of Representatives.
The lawsuit, filed in the Montana First District Court in Lewis and Clark County, alleges that recent actions undertaken by House leadership “silence” Zephyr and infringe on her constitutional rights.
“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,” the lawsuit alleges.
Last week, the Republican supermajority of the House voted to bar Zephyr from the House Floor, gallery and antechamber for the remainder of the 68th Session.
The Montana Constitution gives the House the authority to “expel or punish a member for good cause” if two-thirds of the chamber agrees. All 68 GOP members supported the motion. All 32 Democrats voted no.
Zephyr is allowed to participate remotely in floor sessions through the end of the session, but only to vote – not to speak.
This disciplinary action is the culmination of an issue that began last month, when House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, decided on several consecutive days not to recognize Zephyr on the floor. Regier said he was concerned Zephyr, a transgender woman, would not maintain decorum, after she said lawmakers should be ashamed and would have “blood on your hands” over a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical procedures for transgender youth.
On Monday, April 24, 3034, demonstrators protesting Regier’s decision shouted and chanted “Let her speak!” in the House gallery, disrupting a debate on the floor. Throughout the protest, Zephyr remained at her desk, holding her microphone over her head.
“I raised my microphone to amplify their voices, to make sure that the people who elected me here are heard – and that when this body seeks to pass bills that harm our community, that get us killed, that this body is held accountable,” Zephyr said before the disciplinary vote on Wednesday.
Regier said he saw this disciplinary motion as a fair response, saying Zephyr would still be able to participate and vote on behalf of her constituents. However, some action needed to be taken to ensure similar actions to the protest doesn’t happen again.
“It is me as the speaker, just protecting the dignity and safety and integrity of the House no matter what — no matter what happens,” he told reporters. “We can't have that kind of behavior on the floor moving forward.”
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House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, condemned the disciplinary action saying the motion was an “extreme action” that could have been avoided.
“I will just say that this is beyond our rules, and this is about a broader principle of representative democracy,” she said. “There are other avenues to maintain order, and they chose to ignore those avenues and to take this one.”
During the debate on the floor regarding the disciplinary action, Abbott did note she believed the House did have the power to take these actions against Zephyr but believed they were wrong.
“I agree that you absolutely can do this. By rule, by the constitution, by [Mason's Manual of Legislative Procedure], but just because you can do it does not mean that is the right choice,” said Abbott.
Zephyr also serves on the House Human Services and House Judiciary committees. Since the disciplinary vote, the vast majority of bills that had been in those committees have been blasted to the floor or transferred to other committees, and meetings of the committees canceled. House Judiciary did reconvene on Monday to discuss bills related to an interim study which Zephyr was present for.
I'm suing.The recent actions violate my 1st amendment rights, as well as the rights of my 11,000 constituents to representation.Montana's State House is the people’s House, not Speaker Regier’s, and I’m determined to defend the right of the people to have their voices heard. pic.twitter.com/eyDjgchWPQ
— Rep. Zooey Zephyr (@ZoAndBehold) May 1, 2023
Editor's Note: MTN's Senior Political Reporter Jonathon Ambarian contributed to this report.