Rep. Zooey Zephyr sues state over alleged violation of First Amendment rights

AP Photo/Armando Franca

Montana State Rep. Zooey Zephyr is a transgender politician suing the state, House Speaker Matt Regier, and Sergeant at Arms for the Montana House of Representatives Bradley Murfitt after being censured by House Republicans. He claims an alleged violation of his First Amendment rights has been committed. He has been barred from the floor of the Montana House of Representatives in response to his verbal abuse of his colleagues. His conduct was unprofessional – telling colleagues they would have blood on their hands if they passed amendments to a bill that bans doctors from mutilating minors.


“If you are forcing a trans child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture, and this body should be ashamed,” Zephyr said during her speech on the amendments on Tuesday. “The only thing I will say is 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.”

The Montana Freedom Caucus demanded that Zephyr be censured because of the use of “inappropriate and uncalled for language during a floor debate.” Zephyr was denied recognition in floor debates. He has been effectively banned from participating in debates of bills and amendments. The liberal Democrat from the college town of Missoula is suing and several constituents have joined the lawsuit claiming they were being denied their right to adequate representation.

He released a misleading statement Monday.

Zephyr, whose comments in the Montana Legislature have made her a prominent figure in transgender rights and in conversations about the muffling of dissent in statehouses, said in a statement Monday that she and her constituents were targeted “because I dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself.”

Zooey wasn’t disciplined because he “dared to give voice to the values and needs of transgender people like myself.” It was because he used entirely inappropriate language directed at opponents on the House floor. His actions helped incite those gathered at the capital to protest on his behalf and shut down the House’s session. It almost looked like a repeat of the actions of the Tennessee Three in Nashville. Almost but not quite. But Zooey sees himself as a hero and a martyr. The ACLU of Montana is jumping on his bandwagon. Shocker, I know. There are just a few days left in the legislative session.


The legal challenge against House Speaker Matt Regier and statehouse Sergeant-at-Arms Bradley Murfitt comes with just days left in the Legislature’s biennial session. Murfitt said he would not comment on the lawsuit, and Regier did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Zephyr’s attorneys hoped to get a ruling as quickly as possible on their request for a temporary restraining order against Regier and Murfitt. One of the most important pieces of the Legislature’s work, finalizing a budget for the next two years, is unfinished.

“Every minute matters,” said Alex Rate, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana and one of Zephyr’s attorneys. “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.”

House Republicans moved to sideline Zooey even more and shut down the two committees on which he serves. The bills before the committees were sent to other committees. So, Zooey fought for access to the use of a bench in a Statehouse hallway. Her key card was deactivated, denying her access to Capitol entrances, bathrooms, and workspaces.

The freshman legislator is learning the hard way about protocol and getting along with colleagues. The ACLU of Montana is helping him petition for his legislative privileges and duties to be reinstated.


He has worked remotely from public seating in the state Capitol building.

“The Republicans have used an undemocratic move to remove the ability for me to represent my constituents on the floor,” Zephyr told ABC News last week. “But as I work to resolve that, I need to be as close as possible, so I can have the conversations with legislators and make sure that I can, at least in some way, make sure the voice of my constituents can be can be discussed.”

No doubt Zooey will soon receive an invitation to the White House to be heralded by Joe Biden and Kamala as the hero he is in his own mind. He wasn’t being denied the chance to debate the original legislation and amendments. Yet, he went over the top to chastise colleagues who were voting differently than he was and that’s wrong.

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