Maine Governor Can't Take Facebook Fight To Higher Court

A federal judge won't allow Maine Governor Paul LePage to immediately appeal a decision requiring him to face a free speech lawsuit for blocking critics on social media.

U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock, Jr. in Maine said in a ruling issued late last week that the legal questions raised by the lawsuit can't be answered until more facts have been established. The decision means that two of LePage's critics will be able to continue to gather evidence in a lawsuit accusing the governor of violating the First Amendment by banning them on Facebook.

The battle dates to last year, when the ACLU sued LePage on behalf of Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton, who cofounded the progressive group Suit Up Maine. Both say they were banned from LePage's Facebook page in July 2017, after posting comments that were critical of him or his administration.

They alleged that LePage violated their First Amendment rights by censoring them based on their viewpoints.

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LePage initially urged Woodcock to dismiss the case at a preliminary stage for several reasons -- including that the Facebook page was personal as opposed to official. He argued 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 the page was run by the government. They argued the page was labeled as "official," and that LePage uses his Facebook page to discuss government business with the public.

Last month, Woodcock rejected LePage's argument. The judge said in a written opinion that Leuthy and Burton presented a strong enough case that the page was official to move forward with their lawsuit -- but suggested his view of whether the page was official could change as more evidence is developed.

LePage then asked Woodcock for permission to immediately appeal the ruling to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, and to stay all proceedings pending appeal.

Woodcock rejected that request late last week.

“The problem continues to be that the parties do not agree on the nature of the webpage at the center of this dispute,” he wrote. “At its crux, the central issues in this case are factual, and questions on the appropriate legal analytical framework can only be resolved once the underlying facts have been clarified. As a result, this matter is not appropriate for interlocutory appeal.”

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