Maine’s new “right-to-food” constitutional amendment is the subject of its first lawsuit. The suit was filed in April by two hunters in the state who argue the amendment provides ample basis to overturn a draconian statewide ban on Sunday hunting.
“The Sunday hunting ban is superseded by the Right to Food Amendment,” wife-and-husband plaintiffs Virginia and Joel Parker argue in the lawsuit, which asks the court to overturn the ban.
Some homeowners in the state who allow hunters onto their property oppose the suit’s goals. They’re chafing at the prospect of allowing Sunday hunts on their land.
Maine’s right-to-food amendment, adopted by voters last November (by a 61 percent to 39 percent vote), reads as follows:
All individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being, as long as an individual does not commit trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food.
In their lawsuit, the Parkers point to language in the amendment that protects a person’s “right to… harvest… food of their own choosing for their own nourishment.”
Maine’s ban on hunting on Sundays “is a religious and social construct that does not fit into any of the Amendment’s exceptions, as it cannot be justified by the need to protect private property rights, public safety, or natural resources,” the Parkers’ lawsuit argues. The suit also calls the ban “a historical and religious anachronism.”
The Parkers are right. Maine’s Sunday hunting ban, on the books since 1883, has nothing to do with property rights, public lands, natural resources, or any other constitutional justification. Instead, as the suit alleges, the ban is evidence of Puritan-inspired “blue laws,” which prohibit having too much fun on the day that early Christian colonists in New England held sacred. Though blue laws have largely been rescinded in Maine and other New England states over the years, Maine is remains one of just two states—Massachusetts being the other—with laws in place that prohibit hunting on Sundays.
The lawsuit challenging the ban is a surprise in some ways and largely predictable in others. As I explained last year, virtually everyone familiar with the proposed Maine amendment agreed its passage would likely “spur a host of court challenges,” as people rely on its vague language to advocate for concrete rights. The amendment “will be defined over time by judges pressed to choose which hunting and food regulations are too onerous and which ones are not,” the Bangor Daily News reported last month.
The fact the first suit was filed by hunters (rather than some agricultural interests) is a surprise. I’d have put money on either the state’s unique food sovereignty act or foraging laws—or something tied to the state’s vast seafood industry—being the subject of the first lawsuit filed seeking protection under the new amendment.
Another area that’s likely to see its share of right-to-food-amendment lawsuits pertains to genetically modified seeds. As I detailed in 2016, when the Maine amendment was first proposed, language in it creating a right to save and exchange seeds is highly problematic.
“The issue with saving seeds arises when a farmer voluntarily signs a contract that says he won’t [save or exchange seeds], as many seed contracts offered by GMO producers do,” I explained. “The seed language therefore would make it difficult for Mainers to do business with GMO seed producers. And that may have been the point of the controversial language.”
While lawsuits over GMO seeds will come—and I hope they ultimately cause the seed-related language of the constitutional amendment to be struck down, while the rest of the amendment is upheld—other suits seem more likely to seek to protect and expand food freedom in the state, just as the Parkers’ suit does.
Over the past 100 years, Maine lawmakers have made dozens of unsuccessful attempts to rescind the state’s ban on Sunday hunting. The Parkers’ lawsuit could accomplish what generations of legislative efforts have failed to do. In that way, this lawsuit demonstrates how Maine’s right-to-food amendment is already showing its potential to serve as a powerful new tool to protect and expand food freedom.