District judge dismisses Zephyr’s lawsuit over legislative disciplinary action
HELENA (KPAX) — A judge in Helena has dismissed state Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the disciplinary actions legislative Republicans took against her during this year’s session.
District Court Judge Mike Menahan ruled the lawsuit was moot because Zephyr’s discipline ended when the session did.
In April, Zephyr, D-Missoula, a transgender woman, was not allowed to speak on the House floor for several days, after saying Republican lawmakers should be ashamed and would have “blood on their hands” if they passed a ban on gender-affirming procedures for transgender youth.
House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, said he refused to recognize her to speak because he was concerned she would not maintain decorum.
During one floor session, supporters of Zephyr staged a disruptive protest against Regier’s decision, shouting and chanting “Let her speak!” from the House gallery and causing the session to be suspended.
Law enforcement eventually cleared the gallery. Throughout the protest, Zephyr remained at her desk, holding her microphone over her head.
After the protest, House leadership brought a motion to bar Zephyr from the House floor, anteroom and gallery through the end of the session, claiming she had violated “the rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, and decorum of the House of Representatives.”
The Montana Constitution gives the House the authority to “expel or punish a member for good cause” if two-thirds of the chamber agrees.
Republicans hold a two-thirds supermajority in the House, and all 68 GOP members supported the motion. All 32 Democrats voted no.
Zephyr and four constituents from her district filed suit against the state, Regier and the House sergeant-at-arms, saying that the actions violated free speech and equal protection rights.
Menahan said in his order that a case that would otherwise be moot can move forward if it presents an issue of public importance that is likely to recur, and if a ruling would guide public officers in the performance of their duties.
He agreed the case raised important constitutional issues, but said there’s no way to know if a similar issue will occur in the future, since each legislative session has different members, leaders and rules.
He said the Legislature’s authority to discipline members is set out in the Montana Constitution, so a ruling wasn’t needed to guide officials.