Maine governor sued by ACLU for blocking critics on Facebook

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Republican Gov. Paul LePage was sued Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine for blocking critics on his official Facebook page and deleting their comments.

The ACLU filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of two women, saying their First Amendment rights were violated. The lawsuit seeks attorney fees, a court declaration that the governor's use of his page violates the women's freedom of speech and a court order preventing LePage from continuing his censorship.

LePage's office didn't immediately make him available for comment.

The civil liberties organization recently filed similar lawsuits against Republican Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin and Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. The Knight First Amendment Institute is suing President Donald Trump for blocking people on Twitter.

LePage has long been at odds with the civil liberties organization. The group last fall called for a federal investigation into LePage's call to "verify" college students who voted in Maine, and LePage in 2015 joined a brief opposing the national ACLU's lawsuit on behalf of a transgender student.

The governor has called the Facebook account a political page, and the page's "about" section describes itself as LePage's "official page- but not managed by gov't officials." The ACLU, meanwhile, says LePage has posted to it in his official capacity as governor on several occasions.

The ACLU's lawsuit references a remark LePage made in a recent radio appearance about his efforts to bypass the news media by using the Facebook page.

"They're so bad," LePage said, referring to journalists. "And you know what we found that works? We go Facebook Live and we ignore them and they get even angrier."

The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Kelli Whitlock Burton, a Waldoboro resident, and Karin Leuthy, a Camden resident and the co-founder of Suit Up Maine, a statewide liberal grassroots network.

"I am a constituent, and was commenting as a constituent, not as a member of any group," Leuthy said.

The ACLU is arguing that the state's policy on the use of social media for state business doesn't allow blocking users or deleting comments from critics of a government official. The group said the "Paul LePage, Maine's Governor" Facebook page is verified by Facebook, a process that requires his approval.

The governor's official state website linked to the Facebook page until July 24, when the ACLU sent LePage a letter demanding he stop deleting comments. The governor's office has referred news outlets to the Facebook page, which last month featured video addresses from LePage during the three-day government shutdown.

"Free speech must be protected from government censorship on Facebook just" like any other public forum, said Meagan Sway, an ACLU of Maine attorney.

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