Chase trial Sunday won’t be Maine’s last on right to food

AUGUSTA, Maine — It’s always been clear that Maine’s pioneering right to food amendment could trigger far-reaching legal challenges. Few expected the former to exceed one of the state’s most important hunting regulations.

It happened on Wednesday, when a couple sued the state for violating its new law to ban Sunday hunting. Dozens of legislative attempts to erode the ban have been thwarted by opposition from landowners and division among hunters over how vigorously to pursue it.

The lawsuit is just the first test of the constitutional amendment passed by Maine voters in November guaranteeing the right to grow and harvest food for personal consumption. It is vague and will be defined over time by judges in a hurry to choose which hunting and feeding regulations are too burdensome and which are not.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Dmitry Bam, professor of constitutional law at the University of Maine School of Law in Portland.

The challenges came as a passion project of Democratic lobbyist Jared Bornstein, who was pushing the latest failed legislative attempt to legalize Sunday hunting. Erosion of the ban has been brought up at least 35 times over the past 45 years, according to a rough state estimate.

But immediate reactions from some of Maine’s loudest voices on hunting were muted as they faced a major potential shift in hunting culture. Much of the debate around the right to food amendment has focused on agriculture. Many expected food safety laws or new local ordinances to face the first legal challenges.

“All I can really say is that this came as a surprise to us and we are still evaluating the implications of the lawsuit,” said David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

The sportsman’s group was part of a strange alliance alongside organic farmers who supported the right to food amendment. It was opposed by animal welfare groups who saw it as a backdoor way to enshrine the right to hunt in the Maine Constitution, which has been tried unsuccessfully by lawmakers here in recent years.

Bornstein said he plans to challenge the Sunday hunting law on religious grounds. Maine and Massachusetts are the only two states that have laws, which date back to the 1800s as so-called Blue Laws that prohibit certain activities on church days.

“When the Mainers endorsed the right to food, they may not have been exactly acknowledging the Sunday hunt, but they were acknowledging that the Mainers had the inherent right to harvest the food of their choice,” he said. declared.

He promises to bring his own interesting alliances. Andrew Schmidt, a progressive labor attorney in Portland, is leading the case. Bornstein said he is working to attract domestic partners. None have been finalized, though the National Rifle Association has long supported state constitutional amendments that enshrine the right to hunt and fish.

The Sunday hunt has been one of Maine’s trickiest sporting issues in recent years. A survey commissioned by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and released earlier this year found deep divisions between hunters and landowners.

For example, the blanket ban on Sunday hunting is unpopular, with only 34% of Maine residents supporting it. This increased to 45% if landowner permission was required. While more than two-thirds of hunters support it, nearly two-thirds of landowners oppose it. This opposition is fiercest in southern Maine, where 81% of landowners indicated their disapproval.

Since hunting in Maine relies heavily on landowner permission, a court order lifting the Sunday ban could effectively lead to hunting bans in many areas, said executive director Tom Doak. of Maine Woodland Owners. He wondered if bag limits or hunting seasons themselves might face challenges later under the amendment.

“It’s frustrating for landowners trying to keep land open to the public and enjoying doing that and having to deal with this stuff,” he said.