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We don’t like to say “we told you so.” We really don’t.
In October, we editorialized in favor of a “no” vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would vaguely guarantee a right to food. We worried that the proposed amendment was too vaguely worded and would lead to lawsuits.
“Even with the understanding that no right is absolute, we have a hard time seeing how creating this new, ambiguous constitutional right won’t lead to court challenges where judges, rather than the Legislature, will decide what this language really means,” we wrote in that editorial.
The amendment, which enshrined Mainers’ right to “grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their choosing” for personal consumption in the state constitution, was approved by voters in November, with nearly 61 percent backing the ballot question. It was supported by an unusual coalition including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine.
Less than a year later, the first lawsuit based on the amendment has been filed.
Late last month, attorneys filed suit in Kennebec County Superior Court on behalf of a Readfield couple who argue that Maine’s ban on Sunday hunting is archaic and prevents them from harvesting food for their family. The ban also runs counter to Maine’s constitutional right to food, their court filing argues.
Virginia and Joel Parker say they began hunting in 2011 to supplement their food supply. They want to teach their five children to hunt, but because the children are in school and Joel works during the week, they currently have only one day a week – Saturday – to hunt.
“The Sunday hunting ban is superceded by the Right to Food Amendment,” the Parkers’ lawsuit says. “The ban 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.”
It is now up to a judge – and possibly many judges, as any county court decision is likely to be appealed to higher level courts – to determine if the new amendment does in fact trump state laws and regulations. Judges will also determine how far the amendment reaches.
The Parkers’ suit is backed by Maine Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, a group that has unsuccessfully pushed the Legislature in recent years to overturn the Sunday hunting ban.
Only Maine and Massachusetts ban hunting on Sundays. Advocates of Sunday hunting have tried 35 times over the past 45 years to get the prohibition lifted. They have been unsuccessful and allowing hunting on Sunday remains unpopular with Maine residents.
Given this sentiment and history, we remain convinced that the best way to consider difficult policy changes, like changing long-standing hunting laws, is through a process that includes extensive public input and debate.
That won’t happen in a court case, which is why many groups, including the Maine Farm Bureau and the Maine Municipal Association, warned that the right to food amendment was too vaguely worded and would lead to court challenges.
We fear that the Parkers’ lawsuit will be the first of many that will use the new amendment to challenge long-standing Maine laws that restrict hunting, fishing, land access and land use.