The legal battle over Maine’s 140-year ban on Sunday hunting will go before the state’s highest court this week.
Attorneys for the state of Maine and the family suing the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will make their cases before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Wednesday. At issue is whether a constitutional amendment enacted in 2021 granting a right to food means that Mainers should be able to hunt any day of the week.
The lawsuit from Virginia and Joel Parker marks the first legal test of the first-in-the-nation right to food amendment and is the latest chapter in an ongoing, statewide debate over access to Maine’s outdoor spaces.
Proponents of Sunday hunting say the ban denies Mainers a day to obtain meat, while opponents, including private landowners and hikers, say they want one day a week where they don’t encounter hunters.
Hunting on private land in Maine is allowed unless the property is posted, unlike most states. Maine and Massachusetts are the only states with a full ban on Sunday hunting, while eight states, mostly along the east coast, have partial bans.
Opponents of Sunday hunting warn more landowners will post their property if the law changes.
Maine banned Sunday hunting Feb. 28, 1883. The Legislature in May rejected four bills to allow Sunday hunting in May.
The Parkers sued the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in Kennebec County in April 2022, arguing the right-to-food amendment made Sunday hunting legal. The lawsuit was dismissed, so they appealed to the Maine Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
The Parkers have five children and rely on hunting to help feed their family. They can only hunt together on weekends and the Sunday hunting bans limit them to one day a week, according to a brief filed by their attorneys.
The key legal argument centers on the language in the amendment, which says Mainers can harvest food. The family argues that means they have a right to hunt.
While the word “hunting” does not appear in the amendment, the word “harvest” or “harvesting” does. Any “Mainers of common intelligence” know harvest includes hunting, fishing, clamming, foraging and more, the brief said.
But the state argues that Maine’s Sunday hunting ban does not conflict with the state’s constitution.
Right to food does not conflict with the constitution because there is no reference to the word “hunting,” in the amendment, the Maine attorney general’s office argued. Instead the amendment uses the word “harvest,” which commonly refers only to gathering crops, not hunting.
The amendment originally referenced hunting, but it was removed before the referendum went before Maine voters. Testimony from then-Rep. Craig Hickman specifically said the amendment would not invalidate any established hunting and fishing laws.
The Maine attorney general’s office declined to comment on the suit.
Arguments start at 9 a.m. Wednesday at Winthrop High School. Audio of the arguments will be live-streamed on the Maine State Courts website.