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Montana judge denies Zooey Zephyr’s request to return to house floor


A Montana judge on Tuesday denied transgender state Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s request for a court order allowing her to return to the House floor after she was banned by fellow Republicans for remarks on the legislation on gender-affirming care.

State District Judge Mike Menahan cited the separation of powers in her ruling against Zephyr, a Democrat, and suggested what she was looking for was outside the court’s authority.

Zephyr blasted Menahan’s decision, calling it “dangerous and undemocratic.”

“What this decision implies is that the legislature is not beholden to the constitution – that there is no right to free speech in the face of a supermajority,” she said in a statement. “I will stand with my constituents, my community and the world as we seek to ensure that our democratic institutions survive these attacks.”

Menahan, a former Democratic lawmaker, ruled a day after Zephyr sued in state court challenging her censure for telling fellow lawmakers that a bill banning gender-affirming care would leave ‘blood’ on their hands. House Speaker Matt Regier refused to let Zephyr speak on the floor without apologizing.

The lawsuit, brought in part by the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, listed Regier and Sergeant-at-Arms Brad Murfitt as defendants and alleged that the House leaders’ actions violated Zephyr’s First Amendment rights and the rights of his constituents to representation in their state. government.

Regier welcomed the judge’s decision.

“Montana’s courts have recognized that the judiciary does not have the power to revise or overrule the power expressly held by the Montana State Legislature to conduct its business,” Regier said in a statement. “The Chamber continues its work for the people of Montana.”

Murfitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Menahan’s order and Zephyr’s statement.

State Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, said, “This lawsuit was nothing more than an attempt by outside groups to interfere with Montana’s legislative process. Today’s decision is a victory for the rule of law and the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution.

Last week, Montana became one of more than a dozen states to ban or restrict gender-affirming medical care for transgender children as Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, signed the measure into law. which Zephyr had opposed.

Alex Rate, the legal director of the ACLU of Montana, called the judge’s ruling a “dark day for democracy” in the state.

“It feels like the fundamentals of our democracy are under siege. And when two-thirds of a legislature can vote to remove an individual and their 11,000 constituents from debate, it signals that minority views will not be heard. “Rate said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.