On Friday, April 3, 2015 Maine Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler issued a final judgment in the question of the state’s ability to comment on wildlife issues. In her ruling, Wheeler sided with the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance and fully dismissed a lawsuit aimed at silencing Maine’s wildlife professionals.
The case started in the closing weeks of the Maine bear campaign over Question 1 on last November’s ballot. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), through their front group Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, sued the state of Maine alleging an improper level of engagement in the. The “state,” in this case, was the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, whose vocal and public opposition to Question 1 didn't mesh with HSUS’ wish to stop bear hunting in the state.
The original lawsuit sought an injunction that would remove the TV advertisements being aired by the Maine Wildlife Conservation Council that featured department personnel talking about the dangers of Question 1.
“Political campaigns are won and lost on TV, especially in the case of ballot issue campaigns,” said Evan Heusinkveld, USSA Foundation’s vice president of government affairs. “There is no doubt that our opponents saw the wildlife management professionals at the department as a distinct threat to their campaign. In response, they attempted to silence the only true experts—the professional staff at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.”
On Oct. 22, 2014, Maine Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler denied the request for a temporary restraining order by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, which sought to remove television commercials opposed to Question 1. In her ruling, Justice Wheeler sided with the right of the state to provide comment. This ruling ensured the TV commercials remained on the air, and just a few days later sportsmen were victorious at the ballot box, defeating Question 1 by a 53-46 margin. Despite the victory on the temporary restraining order and at the ballot box on Nov. 4, the lawsuit remained active.
In light of judge’s decision and with the election over, on Feb. 24 the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife moved to have the case dismissed because of mootness—a move wholeheartedly supported by Maine Wildlife Conservation Council. However, HSUS lawyer Rachel Wertheime countered that the lawsuit was still valid because the organization would be filing paperwork to once again put a bear-hunting ban initiative on the state’s 2016 ballot.
In her ruling today, Justice Wheeler responded to that motion by fully and finally dismissing the case at the Superior Court level, leaving HSUS, and their front group Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, with few options outside of appeal to the state’s Law (Superior) Court.
“The Superior court already ruled that the state was well within its right to speak out on this issue, and now they have now decided that since the election is over, the case is moot,” said Heusinkveld. “This ruling just reaffirms our position and is a clear victory for sportsmen and women. There should be no doubt left, the people of Maine deserve to hear from the experts when it comes to these issues.”