PORTLAND, Maine (CN) – Maine Governor Paul LePage must face a lawsuit from two constituents whom the Republican has blocked on Facebook, a federal judge ruled.
Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton brought the complaint back in August 2017, saying their ban from LePage’s social media amounts to censorship in violation of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
Refusing to dismiss the case at the governor’s request on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John Woodcock noted that such an order would be premature since “the parties to this case do not agree on a basic fact: what exactly is the social media page in question.”
Leuthy and Burton claim that the social media page is an official government page where LePage can discuss policy issues, while LePage claims that it is left over from his gubernatorial campaign.
LePage continues to use and moderate the page, even though his final term in office expires in January. He argues that he uses the page as a public figure, rather than as a government official, however, and that he merely uses the page to express his own freedom of speech.
The two residents gave examples in their original complaint of posts that were blocked from LePage’s account. One contradicted the governor’s claim that the media had reported falsely about whether he was on vacation, and another asked LePage why he was blocking other users for being critical.
President Donald Trump faced a similar suit for banning perceived critics on Twitter. Ordering the president to lift the bans this past May, a federal judge told Trump that his actions were unconstitutional.
The ACLU of Maine meanwhile celebrated the continued fight against LePage.
“The recent trend of politicians silencing people on social media because they disagree with them is not just alarming, it’s also unconstitutional,” ACLU staff attorney Emma Bond said in a statement. “Constituents expressing their views to their elected officials is a time-honored, crucial part of democracy. The methods may change, but the protections of the Constitution don’t. Free speech must be protected from government censorship on social media just as is it in any other public forum.”
A spokesman from LePage’s office declined to comment.