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Helena Judge dismisses Zephyr’s lawsuit over legislative disciplinary action

HELENA — A judge in Helena has dismissed the lawsuit brought by state Rep. Zooey Zephyr challenging the constitutionality of disciplinary actions taken by legislative Republicans against her during the recent session. District Court Judge Mike Menahan deemed the lawsuit moot, stating that Zephyr’s disciplinary measures ceased with the conclusion of the session.

In April, Zephyr, a transgender woman representing D-Missoula, faced a speech restriction on the House floor for several days after criticizing Republican lawmakers. House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, justified not recognizing her to speak by expressing concerns about her ability to maintain decorum.

During a particular session, Zephyr’s supporters protested Regier’s decision, causing a disruption by chanting “Let her speak!” from the House gallery. Law enforcement eventually cleared the gallery, and Zephyr, while at her desk, held her microphone overhead throughout the protest.

Following the protest, House leadership initiated a motion to bar Zephyr from the House floor, anteroom, and gallery until the session’s end, citing violations of the House’s rules, collective rights, safety, dignity, integrity, and decorum. The Montana Constitution grants the House the authority to “expel or punish a member for good cause” with a two-thirds majority vote. In this case, the 68 GOP members, holding a two-thirds supermajority, supported the motion, while all 32 Democrats opposed it.

Zephyr and four constituents filed a lawsuit against the state, Regier, and the House sergeant-at-arms, asserting that the actions violated their free speech and equal protection rights.

Judge Menahan, who previously served as a Democrat in the Legislature, acknowledged that a case deemed moot could proceed if it addresses issues of public importance likely to recur and provides guidance for public officers in their duties. While he acknowledged the case raised significant constitutional concerns, he argued that the unpredictable nature of each legislative session—varying members, leaders, and rules—made it uncertain if a similar issue would arise. He noted that the Legislature’s authority to discipline members is outlined in the Montana Constitution, making a specific ruling unnecessary to guide officials.

By: Montana Newsroom Staff

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