HELENA, Mont. — The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana. the law partners of Beck, Amsden, and Stalpes, and Mike Black, Esq. filed a lawsuit in state court today challenging the censure of State Representative Zooey Zephyr (HD 100). The lawsuit alleges that recent actions undertaken by House leadership to silence Representative Zephyr are a violation of her own First Amendment rights and the rights of her 11,000 constituents to representation in their state government.
“This effort by House leadership to silence me and my constituents is a disturbing and terrifying affront to democracy itself,” said Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr (HD 100). “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. The Montana 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.”
“I feel alienated and disenfranchised to have my representative expelled from debate,” said Dean Chou, a resident of Montana House District 100 and a named party in the suit. “Representative Zephyr is my representative on all issues — not just those that directly impact or target transgender Montanans. I believe Representative Zephyr has done an effective job advocating for my interests and my rights on all issues, and I want Representative Zephyr to continue to do so.”
“Suicide amongst transgender youth is not imaginary,” said Anna Wong, a resident of Montana House District 100 and a named party in the suit. “It is not a game and it is not a political foil. It is real. It is heartbreaking. And it is the responsibility of my representative to speak out against bills promoting it. I expected Representative Zephyr to oppose, and her comments leading to expulsion from the House floor, which I have listened to, seem incredibly measured and muted compared to the severity of the situation.”
“Representative Zephyr was elected by the people of her district after running on the very principles she is now being punished for defending,” said Alex Rate, legal director of the ACLU of Montana. “In his craven pursuit to deny transgender youth and their families the health care they need, Speaker Regier has unfairly, unjustly, and unconstitutionally silenced those voters by silencing their representative. His actions are a direct threat to the bedrock principles that uphold our entire democracy, and we welcome the privilege of defending the people of Montana’s 100th House District from this desperate and autocratic effort to silence them.”
Between April 20 and April 24, 2023, House leadership repeatedly refused to recognize Rep. Zephyr, the state’s only openly transgender lawmaker, in all official proceedings. Following April 24 protests from Rep. Zephyr’s constituents who demanded she be allowed to speak, House Speaker Regier voted to formally censure Rep. Zephyr on April 26, physically excluding her from the grounds of the State Capitol and denying her the right to engage in debate on important matters of public policy. The censure effectively denies her constituents adequate representation in their own state government.
When Rep. Zephyr showed up to work at the state capitol on April 27, she was told she could not enter the House chamber. In addition, since the censure, four study bills awaiting votes in the committees on which Rep. Zephyr sits were either transferred to a different committee or elevated to the house floor, effectively eliminating all public committee hearings in which she was scheduled to participate. Important legislative business remains in the waning days of the session; this week the House of Representatives is scheduled to debate amendments to the state budget, House Bill 2.
The censure unfairly and unconstitutionally targeted Rep. Zephyr for voicing her objection to SB 99, a ban on the rights of transgender youth and their families to access gender-affirming health care since signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte on April 28. The ACLU, the ACLU of Montana, and Lambda Legal have promised to challenge SB 99 in court.
The complaint in full can be found here: https://wp.api.aclu.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/ZZ-Compl.-FINAL.pdf