Maine’s highest court has upheld the state’s Sunday hunting ban, ruling against a Readfield couple who argued the rule contradicts a recently enacted right-to-food amendment to the state constitution.

Virginia and Joel Parker sued the commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in April 2022. They argued that the Sunday hunting ban runs afoul of the amendment now enshrined in the Maine Constitution that states “all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right” to harvest and consume the food of their own choosing, so long as they aren’t trespassing, stealing or violating other laws.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court disagreed.

“We hold that the right to hunt for food created by the amendment does not extend to illegal hunting, and therefore Maine’s long-standing Sunday hunting ban does not conflict with the Maine Constitution,” the justices wrote.

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

But the Parkers’ case wasn’t for naught, their attorney, Andy Schmidt, said Thursday. That’s because the high court agreed that hunting every other day of the week is covered by the right-to-food amendment, despite the state’s arguments last fall to the contrary. The Parkers’ attorneys argued before the court in October that the amendment’s use of the term “harvest” includes hunting and means the amendment specifically protects the right to hunt for food.


“Because the word ‘harvest’ is already widely used and understood to include hunting in Maine, the plain language of the amendment unambiguously affirms a right to hunt for the limited purposes of ‘nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being’ by including the ‘right to … harvest’ food,” the justices wrote.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Suitter, who represented the state, said last fall that “harvest” was an ambiguous word meant to cover agricultural means of obtaining food, not hunting. A spokesperson for the Office of the Maine Attorney General said they could not discuss the ruling.

A spokesperson for the fisheries and wildlife department said the agency was pleased with the court’s decision and said in a statement that the ruling  protects “the state’s authority to regulate fishing and hunting seasons so that everyone, hunters, anglers, wildlife watchers, Mainers and those that visit Maine, may enjoy Maine’s treasured fish and wildlife resources for generations to come.”

Schmidt said overall, they’re disappointed in the ruling, but “it’s heartening to see the court enshrine our constitutional right to hunt. … This is a crucial victory for the rights of Mainers.”

The Parkers did not respond to a request made through their attorney to discuss the decision.



The couple said in their complaint they had been hunting since 2011. They wanted to teach their five children to hunt, but struggled to find time during the week because of school and work schedules.

“My husband works full time Monday to Friday. My children are in school full-time and have academic responsibilities,” Virginia Parker said in 2022. “That only gives us one day to go out hunting as a family, to help them learn to harvest an animal, or just enjoy the education. Though we do try to fill the freezer. Meat is so expensive now.”

Because of that, the Parkers argued, the Sunday ban “unconstitutionally infringes on and violates the rights of the plaintiffs, who seek to hunt on Sundays as a means of providing food for themselves and their family.”

The Parkers had asked a Kennebec County judge to find the ban unconstitutional.

In November 2022, Superior Court Justice Deborah Cashman dismissed their complaint, agreeing with the state’s arguments that the Parkers hadn’t raised a claim worthy of judicial review.

The Parkers appealed Cashman’s ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which agreed the justice shouldn’t have dismissed the case so soon. But instead of sending the case back to Cashman, the high court made the unusual decision to issue a ruling.


In its decision, the high court cited a provision in the constitutional amendment that says harvesting is only allowed when it does not conflict with other laws.

The amendment states that harvesting is only a right “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.”

The court concluded that hunting on Sunday was equivalent to poaching because it is illegal under Maine law.

An effort to change the Sunday hunting law comes up in nearly every legislative session.

In March 2022, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife opposed a bill that sought to allow Sunday hunting because of the impact it could have on private landowners who allow hunters on their property. The department told lawmakers that these landowners might close their properties altogether if they had to keep it open on Sundays, and that would also affect people who use the same land for snowmobile and ATV trails.

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