A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Gov. Paul LePage’s practice of blocking his critics on Facebook last week. The ACLU of Maine filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in August 2017 on behalf of Karin Leuthy of Camden and Kelli Whitlock Burton of Waldoboro, both of whom were blocked from commenting on the “Paul LePage: Maine’s Governor” Facebook page. In the suit, the ACLU argues that the governor uses the page in his official capacity to perform government business and therefore blocking people for expressing criticism constitutes “viewpoint discrimination” and “government censorship” in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“The recent trend of politicians silencing people on social media because they disagree with them is not just alarming, it’s also unconstitutional,” said Emma Bond, staff attorney at the ACLU of Maine. “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 it is in any other public forum.”

The suit requests that the Court order the governor to cease the practice, restore the plaintiffs’ posting privileges, undertake a review of all people whose posting privileges have been censored and restore all of those who have been “unlawfully” blocked from commenting. The governor has argued that since none of his taxpayer-funded staff operate the page, it’s not really his. After initially denying that he knew who ran the page, LePage later admitted in a July 2017 radio appearance that the administrator is his senior political advisor, Brent Littlefield, a Washington, D.C.-based consultant. In a statement on the page, Littlefield wrote that the page has always stated that it was created for the governor’s supporters. 

The ACLU of Maine noted that there is some precedent to suggest the governor is in the wrong. In May, a federal judge in New York ruled that President Donald Trump’s habit of blocking his critics on Twitter is unconstitutional as the social media platform constitutes a public forum so First Amendment protections apply. But it remains to be seen whether the civil rights group can prove that the Facebook page is the governor’s official page or just Brent Littlefield’s fan page. In full disclosure, this reporter has also been blocked from Gov. LePage’s Facebook page.