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Judge rejects Montana Rep. Joey Jeffery’s attempt to return to the state House

Reputation. Zooey ZephyrTransgender Montana lawmaker who was silenced after speaking out to Republicans Blood on their hands Opponents of gender-affirming health care for children still cannot return to the Statehouse floor and participate in debate, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The ruling comes after Montana state attorneys asked a judge to reject transgender Jeffery try to come back He was silenced and then exiled for admonishing Republican lawmakers and encouraging a raucous statehouse protest.

Lawyers working under Attorney General Austin Knudsen warned that any court intervention on behalf of Zephyr would be a clear violation of separation of powers. They wrote in court filings that the Montana House of Representatives retains “exclusive constitutional authority” to discipline its own members.

Zephyr’s attorney and several of his Missoula constituents on Monday filed court papers seeking an emergency order allowing him to return to the House floor for the final days of the 2023 legislative session.

Silent transgender lawmaker Joey Zephyr

Montana Democratic Rep. Joey Zeffir raises a microphone in the air on April 24, 2023, as his supporters chant “Let him speak!” Interrupted proceedings in the state house with slogans. Helena, Monte.

Amy Beth Hanson/AP

Zephyr and fellow Democrats denounced his exclusion from the floor debate as an attack on free speech intended to silence his criticism of new restrictions on gender-affirming care for minors.

But state lawyers said Zephyr’s censure by his Republican colleagues after his supporters protested on April 24 was “for good reason.”

“One legislator cannot be allowed to shut down the ability of 99 others to engage in civil, orderly, debate about issues affecting Montana,” state lawyers wrote.

GOP leaders under pressure from hard-line conservatives initially silenced Zephyr from participating in floor debates, and he apologized nearly two weeks ago after saying those who supported bans on gender-affirming care for youth would have “blood” on their hands. He demanded to ask.

On April 24, Zephyr defied the House floor and picked up a microphone as protesters in the gallery demanded he be allowed to speak and refused orders to leave. Seven people were arrested on trespassing charges and two days later MPs voted along party lines to remove Zephyr from the floor and galleries for the rest of the session.

He has since been working from a bench in a hallway and, when it’s occupied, at a statehouse snack bar.

Montana Reps. SJ Howell and Joey Zephyr are seen sitting in a hallway outside the main chamber of the State House.

State Rep. Joey Zephyr, right, speaks with fellow Rep. SJ Howell after House Speaker Matt Regier told him he could not work from the hallway just outside the main chamber of the House, Thursday, April 27, 2023 in Helena, Mont. Howell left a sticky note reading “Seat 31” on the wall above the Zephyr.

Brittany Peterson/AP

The actions taken against Zephyr have catapulted him into the political limelight and made him part of a broader conversation about dissent in state houses. But in Montana, Republicans hope to capitalize on his high profile by painting Democrats as the party of extremists in the upcoming election.

A lawsuit to overturn his sentence was filed by attorneys acting for the Montana ACLU. It named House Speaker Matt Regier and Sergeant-at-Arms Brad Murfitt as defendants.

“The House is certainly free to censure one of its own members and it’s certainly free to adopt rules,” said Montana ACLU legislative director Alex Rhett. “But it is the province of the courts to ensure that these rules comply with the Constitution.”

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