'I’m suing': Zooey Zephyr files lawsuit against Montana Republicans who banished her from House floor
Montana Democratic state Rep. Zooey Zephyr announced Monday she is suing Republican state House Speaker Matt Regier for violating her First Amendment rights by banning her from speaking on the House floor after she criticized GOP lawmakers’ support of legislation that would restrict gender-affirming care.
“I’m suing,” tweeted Rep. Zephyr Monday. “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.”
“This effort by House leadership to silence me and my constituents is a disturbing and terrifying affront to democracy itself,” Zephyr said in an ACLU statement. “House leadership explicitly and directly targeted me and my district because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself. By doing so, they’ve denied me my own rights under the Constitution and, more importantly, the rights of my constituents to just representation in their own government.”
“Every minute matters,” said Alex Rate, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and one of Zephyr’s attorneys, told the AP. “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.”
Her attorneys are currently seeking a temporary restraining order so she can go back to do the work her constituents elected her to do.
During debate on the bill to effectively ban health care for transgender Montanans, Rep. Zephyr had said, “If you vote yes on this bill and yes on these amendments, I hope the next time there’s an invocation, when you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands.”
House Republican Majority Leader Sue Vinton responded, calling her remarks, “entirely inappropriate, disrespectful and uncalled for.”
Members of Montana’s far-right House Freedom Caucus called for her to be censured, misgendering her in their press release, Montana Public Radio reported last month.
But rather than hold a censure vote, Speaker Regier banned her from speaking on the floor. Last week the Republican-majority House voted to discipline her by banning her from speaking on the floor as well.
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, now a professor of law and MSNBC/NBC News contributor notes, “Zephyr was been banned from the House floor for violating ‘decorum.’ Excluding a duly elected representative because the GOP supermajority doesn’t like her comments violates both Zephyr’s First Amendment rights and the rights of the people who elected her to represent them.”
There are parallels in Zephyr’s case and that of the three Tennessee Democrats, two of whom Republicans voted to expel from the House. Vance then notes that too was a First Amendment issue.