Frye-Mueller sues Schoenbeck over Senate suspension, citing First Amendment retaliation

The lawsuit, filed in federal court Monday, claims Schoenbeck violated Frye-Mueller’s First Amendment rights by retaliating against protected political speech.

Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, a Republican from Rapid City, speaks in her defense during a meeting of the Senate on Jan. 26, 2023.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service

PIERRE — A South Dakota state senator has filed suit against a member of Senate leadership, claiming her recent suspension from governance is a violation of her First Amendment rights.

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, Jan. 30, Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City, argues that Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, violated her First Amendment rights by stripping her of committee assignments and barring her from the Senate floor, Legislative Research Council (LRC) and legislative email.

The punishment stems from a Jan. 24 conversation between Frye-Mueller and an LRC staffer in which the senator is accused of making “emotional and aggressive” comments regarding the staffer’s child’s vaccination status and breastfeeding practices.

One day after the conversation was reported, she was removed from her committee spots on Senate Local Government and Senate Health and Human Services until a newly formed Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion could conduct and conclude an investigation.

In her lawsuit, Frye-Mueller argues that her conversation with the staffer was political speech protected by the First Amendment, and that her first-of-its-kind suspension came without due process.


Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck

“[Schoenbeck’s] conduct otherwise violates the First Amendment as [Frye-Mueller] has been singled out and treated differently than other Senators or members of the public based upon their advocacy and have been prevented from exercising their free speech rights in the political process as well as personally,” her lawsuit reads.

Further, Frye-Mueller notes that her suspension leaves her roughly 25,000 constituents without a voice in the Senate.

The lawsuit asks that a federal court declare Frye-Mueller’s suspension a violation of her First Amendment rights and grant preliminary and order her reinstatement as a full-fledged senator.

Frye-Mueller is represented in her lawsuit by former-Rep. Steve Haugaard, a Sioux Falls attorney who left the South Dakota House of Representatives to challenge Gov. Kristi Noem in the 2022 Republican primary, a race in which he lost.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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