Sunday hunting lawsuit isn’t over

By V. Paul Reynolds

In November of 2021, Maine voters approved a state referendum to the State Constitution called the Right-To-Food Amendment. The amendment, the first of its kind in the United States, provides Mainers with a constitutional right to grow, harvest and consume their own food, and it includes protections for rights to seed saving and seed sharing. The amendment was approved by the State Legislature by a two-thirds vote early in 2021, but it needed approval from voters in order to become a constitutional amendment. 

Since then there have been questions raised as to whether this state constitutional right to food “harvest” includes hunting. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) argues that, indeed, it does, that killing wild game for personal consumption is a harvest undertaking no different from fishing or growing vegetables or picking wild berries or mushrooms.

Earlier this year a Readfield couple, Virginia and Joel Parker, decided to legally challenge the state arguing that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s ban of Sunday hunting is inconsistent with the Right-to-Food Amendment. The lawsuit targeting Maine’s ban on Sunday hunting is the first to argue that a new constitutional right to food trumps a major state law. The Parkers contend the ban is archaic and prevents them from harvesting food for their family. 

Recently, Superior Court Justice Deborah Cashman dismissed the suit, filed in April in Kennebec County Superior Court by Joel Parker and Virginia Parker against Judy Camuso, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, in a brief ruling dated Nov. 30.

Democratic lobbyist Jared Bornstein, executive director of Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting (HUSH),  the group that spearheaded the most recent effort to overturn the state’s law prohibiting hunting on Sunday, said the ruling does not mean the suit is over, rather that the Parkers will be filing an appeal to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Interestingly, the Superior Court Judge’s dismissal of the suit did not include and legal analysis or conclusion.

“It does look bad, but it’s really not,” Bornstein said of the judge’s decision.

“They didn’t give any arguments at all. There’s no analysis,” he said of the ruling.

Bornstein said that because the Maine Superior Court system is so backlogged with cases resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, and since the lower-court ruling likely would have been appealed by one of the parties, the motion to dismiss should help expedite the next step.

So it looks like Maine’s highest court will make a determination. The case, which does have some significant implications that go beyond the Sunday hunting ban, may pivot on legislative intent: Did the State Legislature envision the word “harvest” to include hunting when it approved the language of the amendment and sent it to the voters for final approval?

Cross your fingers. And stay tuned!

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books. Online purchase information is available at www.sportingjournal.com, Outdoor Books.

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