HELENA, Mont. — Rep. Zooey Zephyr, the transgender Montana lawmaker who was silenced after telling Republicans they would have blood on their hands for opposing gender-affirming health care for kids, cannot return to the statehouse House floor and participate in debate, a judge ruled Tuesday.
The ruling came after attorneys for the state of Montana asked the judge to reject Zephyr’s attempt to return. She was silenced two weeks ago then banished last week for admonishing Republican lawmakers and encouraging a raucous statehouse protest.
District Court Judge Mike Menahan said it was outside his authority to overrule the Legislature and return Zephyr to the House floor.
Such a move “would require this court to interfere with legislative authority in a manner that exceeds this court’s authority,” Menahan wrote in his five-page ruling.
Zephyr told The Associated Press that the decision was “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 said.
Lawyers working under Attorney General Austin Knudsen cautioned that any intervention by the courts on Zephyr’s behalf would be a blatant violation of the separation of powers. They wrote in a court filing that the Montana House of Representatives retains “exclusive constitutional authority” to discipline its own members.
Knudsen, a Republican, issued a statement through a spokesperson saying the lawsuit was an attempt by outside groups to interfere with Montana’s lawmaking process.
”Today’s decision is a win for the rule of law and the separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution,” he said.
An attorney for Zephyr, Alex Rate, said an appeal was being considered. But the 2023 legislative session is nearing its end, so a ruling in coming days would be of little immediate consequence.
Zephyr and several of her Missoula constituents on Monday filed court papers seeking an emergency order allowing her to return to the House floor for the final days of the 2023 legislative session.
Zephyr and fellow Democrats have denounced her exclusion from floor debates as an assault on free speech that’s intended to silence her criticism of new restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors.