Rep. Zooey Zephyr is the Leader LGBTQ+ Youth Need Right Now
By Isabella Zollner
This year’s legislative session has seen the rise of several brave young representatives. Like Senator Machaela Cavanaugh from Nebraska who spent seven weeks filibustering for trans rights. Or the three Tennessee representatives who were impeached (but later reinstated) after they led a rally advocating for gun reform. Representative Zooey Zephyr has joined this cohort after the Montana House of Representatives voted to silence her.
Representative Zephyr is in her first term at the Montana legislature and is the first transgender person to be elected to Montatna’s House of Representatives. She was banned from testifying on April 20th after testifying that the Republicans who opposed gender affirming care for minors would have ‘blood on their hands’. Hundreds of people poured into Montana’s state house to protest. From the gallery these protesters shouted, “Let Her Speak” and Zephyr used a microphone to defy the ruling that banned her from legislating. The fact that protestors gathered in the gallery is especially significant given that chanting, holding signs, or otherwise protesting in a legislative gallery is illegal. Police subsequently arrested 7 people and Representative Zephyr was banned from the House floor entirely.
Censures are not entirely unheard of in the House of Representatives. In fact, 23 members of the US House of Representatives have been censored in the past. However, these censures are nothing like what has happened to Representative Zephyr. After being censured a representative must hear a verbal rebuke and resolution against them. They are then required to give up all the committee chairs they hold. Censuring is typically considered to be a form of public shaming. But in Representative Zephyr’s case the censure went far beyond that.
Representative Zephyr has been banned from even entering the House until the end of her term. So, unless Montana calls a special session to order, Zephyr won’t be ever able to speak on the House floor again unless she is re-elected in 2024. Now she works from a bench outside of the House floor and within her assigned committees. This form of censure is unheard of and ridiculously more severe than the general form of censure in House proceedings. The only reason it is allowed to go on is because of the Republican supermajority in Montana. They hold two thirds of congress, the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, and almost every other statewide office.
Representative Zephyr filed a lawsuit against this ruling in early May. In an absurd abuse of checks and balances the presiding district judge, Mike Menahan, claimed he had no power to decide how the House punished its own. This ruling is based on the claim that the judiciary branch can not directly regulate what congress does. But that claim is, well, just false. Practically every supreme court case since 1803 has been decided using the power of judicial review. This power gives the judicial branch the ability to strike down legislative decisions that are found to be unconstitutional. Given that Representative Zephyr’s censure is significantly more extreme than past censures, the judicial branch clearly has a right to overrule it.
Representative Zephyr will likely appeal this ruling to higher courts. But until then, her constituents are being denied the representation guaranteed to all American citizens. Representative Zephyr’s silencing is only one of a slew of unconstitutional regulations enacted by state governments this legislative year. While they are scary, these decisions show that republican majorities everywhere are afraid of the liberal wave that is growing among America’s youth and the change that it will bring across the country.
About the Author:
After being subjected to homophobic harassment in the classroom, Isabella decided to try and use her writing to encourage others to stand up for each other and themselves. Isabella is a high school student in Lafayette, IN.