WINTHROP — The state’s highest court heard arguments Wednesday on whether Maine’s longstanding ban on Sunday hunting violates the state Constitution.

A Readfield couple, Virginia and Joel Parker, filed a lawsuit against state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso last year, claiming the 140-year-old Sunday hunting ban violates the “right to food” amendment to the Maine Constitution voters approved in 2021.

The couple’s lawsuit, which was dismissed by a Superior Court justice, was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which took up the matter Wednesday at Winthrop High School as part of an educational program in which court sessions are held at different high schools across the state.

“Voters passed a novel amendment to the Maine Constitution which protects and secures the natural, inherent and unalienable right to food,” attorney Pamela Lee, representing the Parkers, told the seven justices of the Supreme Court who were sitting as the Maine Law Court, a reference to the justices in their appellate capacity as interpreter of the laws. “The Superior Court erred in dismissing the Parkers’ claims. Because under a straightforward reading of this new constitutional amendment, Maine’s statutory ban on Sunday hunting is unconstitutional as applied to those who hunt for food. The right to food amendment … protects the right to hunt for food. The text of this amendment is not ambiguous.”

Lee said the amendment’s use of the term “harvest” — which she said is commonly understood to apply to hunting — means the amendment specifically protects the right to hunt for food. She said the amendment has certain exemptions that allow the state to regulate some aspects of how people obtain food, but banning Sunday hunting is not one of them.

Paul Suitter, an assistant attorney general, countered that “harvest” is ambiguous, does not specifically refer to hunting as a means to obtain food and is mostly used to refer to agriculture. Initial references to hunting in the amendment were removed, he said, and replaced with the more general harvesting. He also said state officials were clear, when the new amendment was adopted into law, that it would not invalidate any existing state hunting or fishing laws, which also ban night hunting, limit the number of animals hunters can kill and restrict hunting to specific seasons. He said the state is allowed to regulate when and how wild animals are hunted.


“The wildlife of Maine is not owned by any individual person in the state, it is the property of the people of Maine,” Suitter said. “We the people get to determine how our property may be hunted, and we do that through our Legislature. Taking the people’s property, against our directions, constitutes poaching, and that provides an alternative reason why this complaint cannot survive.”

Some justices, including Waterville’s Justice Joseph Jabar, questioned Lee on why a Sunday hunting ban would be unconstitutional while the ban on night hunting, and restrictions implicit in the dates of designated hunting seasons, are not.

Lee responded that the ban on night hunting would withstand a constitutionality test because it is related to protecting the public safety, and seasonal limits are part of natural resource protection efforts. She said the ban on Sunday hunting, meanwhile, is too broad and arbitrary to pass constitutional muster since passage of the right to food amendment.

Opponents of the amendment in 2021 expressed concerns that its language was vague and could prompt lawsuits related to food production. Legal scholars said it was almost guaranteed to be challenged in court, while Gov. Janet Mills’ administration did not support or oppose the amendment and said its impact on existing laws was unclear.

Before the arguments started, Chief Justice Valerie Stanfill, whose chambers are in Augusta, told Winthrop High School students the justices decide cases as a group. Tuesday, the court held sessions at Greely High School in Cumberland and, Thursday, it planned to go to Skowhegan Area High School.

The justices do not decide appeals during oral arguments such as the ones held Wednesday. They hear from the attorneys from both sides, ask questions and will issue a decision later in a written opinion.

Maine and Massachusetts are the only states that ban hunting on Sunday. The practice was banned in Maine in 1883. Maine, also, was the first state in the nation to pass a right to food amendment.

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