Judge Says Case Concerning LePage Censoring Facebook Page Can Continue

Aug 30, 2018

A federal judge in Maine has refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the practice of Gov. LePage to block constituents he disagrees with from his Facebook page.

The lawsuit against Gov. LePage was brought by the ACLU of Maine on behalf of Karin Leuthy of Camden and Kelli Whitlock Burton of Waldoboro, the co-founders of a statewide, progressive grassroots group called Suit Up Maine. The co-founders allege that they were banned from the official "Paul LePage, Maine's Governor" Facebook page after posting comments about LePage’s statement that he intentionally misleads the press. One of the co-founders also criticized his practice of deleting constituents' comments. They said that being blocked from the governor's social media page and having their comments deleted violated their rights to free speech and to petition the governor for a redress of grievances.

The governor argues that the Facebook page is a private platform of expression for him as a politician and is not administered by the government, and that it was created nearly a year before he took office. The governor also maintains that the page is "distinct in form and substance from official state agency Facebook pages" and that the administration of the Facebook page "is not among any actual or apparent duties of the Office of the Governor of Maine."

But in their lawsuit, the Plaintiffs point out that the same Facebook page uses the label "official," invokes the governor's title, links to the official Maine.gov website, operates under the verified banner of "Maine's governor" and engages citizens responses on matters of public concern.

In his 41-page decision, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock compared Facebook users who post messages expressing disagreements with the governor to citizens who might attend public meetings hosted by him, and the judge declined to adopt the governor's view that all that appears on his Facebook page constitutes his speech.

"The Court finds that the Plaintiffs plausibly stated a claim for violation of their free speech rights under the First Amendment," the judge wrote.

In May, a federal judge in New York ruled that President Trump is violating the Constitution by blocking some Americans from viewing and commenting on his tweets.

Originally published Aug. 29, 2018 at 5:50 p.m. ET.