It was a busy day for trans Montana state Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D) as she worked remotely outside the Montana House of Representatives — on a bench reserved for her by volunteers — while the ACLU shepherded a lawsuit through the state’s district court system appealing Zephyr’s expulsion from the House floor and all future debate in the legislature’s 68th session.
And then, unexpectedly, it was over.
Just after 3 p.m., a Democrat in the Montana Senate called for a motion to adjourn sine die, or indefinitely, meaning a successful vote would bring Montana’s latest biennial, 90-day legislative session to a close. Three days early.
The measure passed the Senate 26-24.
The onus was then on the state House of Representatives to wrap up any unfinished business in a series of votes, including finalizing the state’s next budget, among others.
At the same time, District Court Judge Mike Menahan was considering whether or not to put an emergency stop to Republicans’ censure of Zephyr, after back-to-back incidents that House Speaker Matt Reiger characterized as indefensible.
Last week Zephyr made headlines when the Montana House was debating S.B. 99, which would deny gender-affirming healthcare to trans youth, forcing those undergoing treatment to leave the state or detransition. The bill subsequently passed the state’s House and was signed into law by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte (R).
“If you vote yes on this bill, I hope the next time you bow your heads in prayer, you see the blood on your hands,” Zephyr told her colleagues during debate.
The remarks sent shockwaves through the Montana state capitol and the Republican conference behind the discriminatory legislation. Speaker Reiger demanded an apology. None was forthcoming, and Zephyr was formally barred from debate.
Days later, the 34-year-old Democrat was found standing alone in the middle of the state House floor with her microphone silenced and raised above her head as dozens of protesters in the public galleries shouted their support.
As Zephyr’s colleagues watched from the sidelines, where officials had asked them to gather, police in riot gear marched past the first-term representative in a show of force on their way to arresting seven protesters among the crowd, who were chanting in unison, “Let her speak!” and “Whose House? Our House!”
Republican leaders called the protest a “riot” and an “insurrection.”
And then banned Zephyr from the House floor altogether, until the end of the legislative session.
For days now, Zephyr has been forced to work and vote remotely, just outside the state house chamber doors, while supporters and detractors (including the Republican speaker’s own mother) have battled over bench space for the Missoula-area rep.
In his opinion, Judge Menahan declined to grant Zephyr relief from the Republicans’ censure order.
“Plaintiffs’ requested relief would require this Court to interfere with legislative authority in a manner that exceeds this Court’s authority,” Menahan wrote. “Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief which far outpaces the facts at issue here.”
Zephyr would remain barred from the state house floor until the legislative session was adjourned.
Within hours, the chamber did just that.
“Late last night, the House adjourned Sine Die—meaning the 68th legislative session has come to a close,” Zephyr tweeted early Wednesday morning.
“As soon as we adjourned, I returned to my seat in the People’s House to celebrate the work my colleagues & I did this session, and begin discussing what comes next.”
She immediately entered the chamber when the session ended and hugged her supportive colleagues.