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Judge denies Rep. Zooey Zephyr’s attempt to return to Montana House floor

<i>Thom Bridge/Independent Record/AP</i><br/>A Montana judge on May 2 denied a request for the court to intervene and return state Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr's access to the House floor. Zephyr
Thom Bridge/Independent Record/AP
A Montana judge on May 2 denied a request for the court to intervene and return state Democratic Rep. Zooey Zephyr's access to the House floor. Zephyr

By Paradise Afshar and Jack Forrest, CNN

A Montana judge on Tuesday denied a request for the court to intervene and restore state Rep. Zooey Zephyr‘s access to the House floor.

The Democrat vowed to continue the fight, saying on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront”: “I’m exploring every avenue available to make sure my constituents, the people who sent me here, have the representation that they have a right to.”

Zephyr, who is the first openly transgender woman elected to Montana’s legislature, was banned last week by state House Republicans from the chamber for the rest of this year’s legislative session. Her ouster came after she had said GOP lawmakers would have “blood” on their hands for passing bills restricting transgender rights and rallied protesters when state House Speaker Matt Regier blocked her from being recognized to speak.

“The speaker and the Republican supermajority took away my ability to represent my constituents and, in doing so, took away their right to representation,” she told CNN’s Erica Hill.

While the 34-year-old is able to retain her seat and cast votes remotely, she is not able to participate in debates for the remainder of the legislative session, which is slated to end this week.

Zephyr has been working from the hallway near the House chambers where she said she is able to catch colleagues and ask them to help represent sentiments on the floor that she hears from her constituents.

“And they do, but it’s not the same as your representative,” she said, adding later that her constituents “elected me to be in that house for them.”

Montana District Court Judge Mike Menahan rejected Zephyr’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Tuesday.

“Plaintiffs’ requested relief would require this Court to interfere with legislative authority in a manner that exceeds this Court’s authority,” the decision said. “Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief which far outpaces the facts at issue here.”

Menahan cited the separation of powers between the judicial and the legislative branches in denying the request.

“The Montana Constitution explicitly grants each house of the Montana legislature the authority to ‘expel or punish a member for good cause,'” he wrote in the order, noting that “Because the constitution explicitly reserves this power for the Legislature, the Court’s powers are conversely limited.”

The clash began last month when Zephyr said during a floor speech that Republican supporters of a bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors in Montana had “blood on your hands.” Studies have consistently found alarmingly high rates of suicide among transgender teens and Zephyr’s stand against anti-trans legislation in the state comes as Republicans nationally and at the state-level escalate their political attacks on trans people.

Regier, backed by a Republican supermajority, ruled those comments violated House rules and refused to allow her to speak on the floor. The next week, Zephyr’s supporters packed the House gallery and chanted “let her speak!” as she attempted to be recognized. Seven protesters were arrested and the House two days later voted 68-32 to ban her from appearing on the House floor.

The move by Republicans came weeks after after two Democratic lawmakers in Tennessee were expelled over their protests on the state House floor demanding action to address gun violence following a mass shooting at a Nashville school. It’s the latest example of a Republican-dominated state legislature restricting who can be heard — and what can be said — about policy debates that minority Democrats in the state view as matters of life and death.

This story has been updated with additional information.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Eric Bradner, Steve Contorno and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report

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