Maine Governor Paul LePage is seeking to appeal a ruling that allowed two Facebook users who were blocked by him to proceed with a free speech lawsuit.
"This case raises issues of significant (and rapidly increasing) importance," LePage argues in papers filed late last week with U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock, Jr. in Maine. "This case is one of many recently filed actions that seek to constitutionalize government officials’ use of social media -- an issue of profound importance to any candidate or official who seeks to communicate with voters or constituents through this new medium."
Last month, Woodcock refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed against LePage by the ACLU on behalf of Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton, who allege they were banned from LePage's Facebook after posting critical comments. LePage is now seeking permission to immediately appeal that ruling to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. He also is asking Woodcock to stay the case pending appeal.
LePage had argued to Woodcock that the lawsuit should be dismissed for several reasons, including that the page was personal, as opposed to official. The governor contended that the page reflected his "private speech," and that he has a First Amendment right to decide what material to allow on the page.
Leuthy and Burton countered that the page was run by the government. They noted that the page was labeled as "official," and that LePage uses his Facebook page to discuss government business.
Woodcock said in his ruling that dismissal at an early stage would be premature. "The plaintiffs pleaded facts that lead to a reasonable inference the governor acted under color of state law when he deleted their posts and banned them from his Facebook page," Woodcock wrote.
LePage argues in his new court papers that the rules that prohibit censorship in physical public forums -- like parks -- should not necessarily apply online.
"Social media networks are so revolutionary precisely because they enable any citizen to spread his or her message to millions of others with just a few keystrokes," he writes. "Nobody needs access to LePage’s Facebook page to communicate their message; Plaintiffs can easily create their own page or post comments on some of the many other Facebook pages that are highly critical of LePage."
The ACLU opposes LePage's request, arguing that there is no justification for an immediate appeal.
LePage isn't the only public official to be sued for blocking critics on social media. Other politicians, including President Trump, were hit with similar lawsuits. Trump lost a round in court several months ago, when a federal judge in New York ruled that the president violates the First Amendment by blocking critics on Twitter. The Department of Justice recently asked the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse that ruling.