Suit Up Maine co-leaders Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton have agreed to a settlement in their First Amendment censorship case against Governor Paul LePage, filed in August 2017. The terms of the settlement satisfy much of the relief sought by Leuthy and Burton. Administrators of the Governor’s Facebook page have unblocked Leuthy and Burton, created a process allowing others who have been blocked to request that their posting privileges be restored, and agreed not to censor or block other constituents during Gov. LePage’s remaining time in office. Following is their statement about their decision to settle the case.
In the summer of 2017, we became the latest of many constituents to be blocked and have our comments deleted by the Paul LePage, Maine’s Governor Facebook page. Because Gov. LePage and his staff made it clear through their actions and statements that the page served the Governor in his official capacity, we believed that this constituted viewpoint discrimination and government censorship in violation of the U.S. and Maine constitutions. With the help of the ACLU of Maine, we filed suit against Governor LePage, seeking to have our commenting privileges restored, as well as cessation of any further censorship of our comments on the Governor’s page that did not violate the state’s guidelines about permissible speech on social media.
This is about a lot more than disagreeing with Gov. LePage on Facebook. It is about a frightening trend among Republican politicians nationwide who are actively undermining the will of a majority of Americans with whom they happen to disagree, from ballot measures to election results. In the case of Gov. LePage, he sought to limit his constituents’ speech on social media, simply because they criticized his positions on issues.
Gov. LePage sought to have the case dismissed, but in August of this year a federal judge denied his request, ruling that we had alleged a real violation of the First Amendment. This was an important victory. During this same time period, similar cases were being heard in other states. Notably, a federal judge in New York ruled in May that President Trump violated the Constitution by blocking some Americans from viewing and commenting on his tweets. In that case, the court held that blocking the plaintiffs because of the views expressed constituted impermissible viewpoint discrimination.
While it’s certainly good news that Paul LePage’s time as Maine’s Governor is rapidly coming to a close, continuing with the case after he leaves office risked the case being dismissed, which would have nullified the ruling in August and erased that important legal precedent. Because of this, we agreed to enter into a settlement agreement. While the settlement results in an end to our lawsuit, it also requires administrators of the Paul LePage, Maine’s Governor’s Facebook page to immediately cease blocking constituents and deleting comments that do not violate the state’s social media standards. It requires that we be unblocked, and creates a process for others who have also been unfairly blocked to request that their posting privileges be restored. While we would have loved to have had our day in court, we are satisfied with this outcome. We believe it will not only discourage other elected officials from attempting to silence their critics, but also support future cases brought against other elected officials in Maine and beyond.
–Karin Leuthy and Kelli Whitlock Burton
If you were blocked by the Paul LePage, Maine’s Governor Facebook page, you now have the opportunity to be unblocked. Send an email including your Facebook username to Facebookcase@aclumaine.org by December 13, 2018.