Politics & Other Mistakes: Dinner for dimwits

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Let the constitutional clown show begin.

Last November, the Maine electorate, demonstrating the same deep grasp of legal and political implications typically found in rabid coyotes, overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment granting themselves the “right to food.”

The reason this law is needed, according to supporters, is because, at some unspecified future time, the president or Congress or maybe the Internal Revenue Service might try to stop law-abiding citizens from ordering lunch.

Al Diamon“Prior to this, our government viewed our ability to provide food for ourselves as a privilege and not a right,” Republican state Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham of Winter Harbor told the Portland Press Herald. “With this amendment, the people of Maine ensured that food is a right by enumerating it in the constitution.”

Faulkingham, a far right-winger and a lobsterman, was joined in pushing through the amendment by an unlikely assortment of clunkheads, including organic farmers, hunting enthusiasts, and people who don’t like to be told that enshrining blobs of semi-meaningless rhetoric in the constitution is a recipe for unpleasant legal consequences.

The amendment says, in part, that “all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to food, including the right to save and exchange seeds and the right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.”

But it also prohibits “trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the harvesting, production or acquisition of food.”

What does all that blather mean? We’re about to find out. 

Late last month, Virginia and Joel Parker of Readfield filed a lawsuit claiming the new amendment grants them the right to hunt on Sundays. Maine bans hunting on that day, a remnant of the old “blue laws” that outlawed almost everything but churchgoing on the Sabbath. Most of those statutes have been repealed, but according to the Bangor Daily News, attempts to get rid of the hunting ban have failed in the Legislature nearly three dozen times in the past 45 years.

The Parkers have a not-unreasonable gripe with that law. They work five days a week. Their kids go to school Monday through Friday. That leaves the family one day to hunt, which often isn’t enough to bag a deer or turkey to stock the freezer. They say they’re being denied their right to food.

“I actually didn’t see this coming,” a surprised Faulkingham told the Press Herald. He didn’t explain how he missed arguments by opponents of the amendment that it would lead to lots of weird court cases.

The ban on Sunday hunting is an anachronism and should have been repealed by the Legislature long ago. If the courts eventually decide to do what our elected leaders failed to accomplish, it wouldn’t be a disaster. The disaster will be what comes next.

If Sunday hunting is deemed unconstitutional, there’s every reason to think other similarly aggrieved (and hungry) individuals will be filing their own lawsuits to repeal the ban on night hunting. Or hunting out of season. Or the requirement to get a hunting license. Or a moose permit. Or any sort of permit.

Caught an undersized trout? You might have a constitutional right to keep it. Bagged too many partridges? Fundamental state law may permit you to eat them all. Feel like planting an invasive species of fruit tree in your backyard? Let freedom and illegally imported Asian pears ring.

There’s no predicting what the courts will do once libertarian-minded individuals with empty bellies start clogging the docket with increasingly whacky petitions to free them from the onerous burden of abiding by state laws designed to scientifically manage our environment and natural resources. Judges could uphold existing limits on what and when you can hunt, fish, or seed the earth with potentially damaging crops. Or they could allow chaos to reign.

Amending the constitution is serious business that should be considered only when the need is clear and the consequences carefully considered.

It’s no job for clowns who prefer to shoot first and ask questions later.

If you think I’m out to lunch, email [email protected].