November 27, 2022

Maine Supreme Court Decision Against HSUS Not Necessarily a Victory for Sportsmen

Maine sportsmen shouldn’t go off half cocked and with swelled chests believing that the decision by the Maine Supreme Court to uphold Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler’s ruling that a lawsuit, filed by Katie Hansberry and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), declared “moot,” was some kind of major victory for sportsmen.

The Sportsmen’s Alliance put out a presser extolling the victory: “Today’s ruling just reaffirms our position and is a clear and decisive victory for sportsmen in Maine,” said Evan Heusinkveld, president and CEO of Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation. “The people of Maine deserve to hear from the experts when it comes to these issues, and today’s ruling rightfully upheld that position.”

A writer for the Bangor Daily News reports: “In March 2015, Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler dismissed the lawsuit, saying it was moot because the election had been decided. She also declared the department’s campaign activities were legal because restricting speech on a contested issue was not in the public’s interest.”

I think it’s imperative that readers examine the written ruling of the Maine Supreme Court on the issue, compare it with comments being made and determine that this ruling is not a huge victory for sportsmen. As well, it’s important to understand what was and what wasn’t written in the decision.

As I understand it, Katie Hansberry and HSUS filed a lawsuit to stop representatives from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) from speaking out in opposition to Question One on the Maine ballot – an initiative that would have effectively ended bear hunting and trapping in the state. From the perspective of MDIFW such a referendum, if passed, would have seriously impeded the department’s ability to responsibly manage black bears.

Maine Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler, at the time of review of the lawsuit, ruled the case “moot” because the referendum voting had already taken place. However, HSUS and Hansberry decided to appeal that ruling and sought from the Maine Supreme Court a clear ruling that would, in the future, prohibit state departments, and in this case MDIFW, from using what they deemed public resources against public referendum issues.

While the Maine Supreme Court upheld Wheeler’s moot ruling, in response to the appeal the justices attempted to explain why the moot decision was upheld and why the same Court could not make a blanket ruling about future campaigns that involve state departments.

The Court writes: “An issue is moot when there remains no “real and substantial controversy, admitting of specific relief through a judgment of conclusive character.”  A controversy that declares rights “upon a state of facts that may or may not arise in the future” is not justiciable.” 

HSUS was seeking a ruling that they could perhaps use that would prohibit any department from speaking out, for or against, in future referendum campaigns. The Court was not going to give them that ruling because there is no way to determine future issues and the context in which such campaign issues may arise.

The lawsuit against the MDIFW claims that employees/representatives of that department, continuing to be allowed to speak out against HSUS’ efforts “harms ongoing efforts” of HSUS. The Court thought otherwise: “This alleged harm does not present a “real and substantial controversy” that could be addressed through “specific relief.” Any relief that MFBH will obtain is theoretical, depending on whether it becomes involved in a future ballot initiative.”

The Court also explains, in depth, certain exceptions to “mootness.” (1) sufficient collateral consequences will result from the determination of the questions presented so as to justify relief; (2) the appeal contains questions of great public concern that, in the interest of providing future guidance to the bar and public we may address; or (3) the issues are capable of repetition but evade review because of their fleeting or determinate nature.

Perhaps of most importance is the following statement found in the ruling as it pertains to why “mootness” exceptions do not exist: “However, the core question at issue in this case is not a generic question; rather, the question presented is the specific agency’s authority in the context of the facts at issue. Each State agency’s authority turns on its individual enabling statute. Although the question may recur, the extent of an agency’s statutory authority, the actions taken by the agency, and the context of those actions will vary and are not predictable. An interpretation of the Department’s enabling statute in the context of this now-concluded action may have little authoritative value in future litigation.” 

Hansberry and the Humane Society of the United States did not get what they wanted but it should be understood that they also were not shut out in their efforts. What they got was a better understanding of how to go about filing the next lawsuit in order to better satisfy the demands of the Maine Court. The ruling does not declare that all of Maine’s governmental departments are free to campaign for or against public issues. Each department is different and the context of the lawsuits – circumstances involved – can and will determine the viability of a lawsuit against the state.

In this particular case, because the lawsuit never reached the Courts before the referendum voting, the case was declared moot and considerations as to future lawsuits could not be evaluated “generically.”

A victory? Perhaps. A huge victory? No. And even the so-perceived victory is in the eye of the beholder. Is it a victory to know that in the right context, the state can be sued to prevent the public from gaining knowledge about a department’s ability to do their jobs? Is it a victory that in the same or different context, that state can not be sued?

Doors always swing in two directions. What we should learn is that in this one particular case, HSUS was not able to get the Court to give them what they wanted to make their future lawsuits easier by censorship. However, they gained understanding for the next time.


Is It Appropriate to Appoint Someone to State Wildlife Committee Who Sued State?

FrustratedBearRecently I wrote about the inappropriateness, ineptitude and seriously flawed decision by someone at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW), to appoint Katie Hansberry, the leader of the Maine Chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, to sit on a black bear management subcommittee to assist in the formation of a 15-year wildlife management plan for black bears.

Available today is the Maine Supreme Court’s decision in Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, et al v. Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, et al.  in which Katie Hansberry is named, along with Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting (MFBH) as the complainant in the lawsuit.

Some history. Hansberry and her radical, animal rights organization got placed on the Maine ballot in 2015 a referendum seeking to end bear hunting and trapping. For the second time in 10 years this action was shot down by the voters of Maine.

During the campaign effort, MFBH filed a lawsuit against the MDIFW, claiming that it was against Maine law to use department money to campaign against the Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) campaign to end bear hunting.

By the time the case made its way to Court, the referendum was concluded and voted down by voters. The Maine Supreme Court simply ruled the case “moot.” MFBH and Katie Hansberry filed an appeal to the Court’s “moot” ruling.

The appeal upheld the moot ruling in this case. Readers can read the decision as to the reasons that the complaint against using public resource to campaign against this particular case remains moot.

The bigger point is the simple fact that this person, who sued the State of Maine, specifically the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, has now been appointed to sit on a subcommittee that will help decide bear management for the next 15 years.

Not only is this damned absurd, one wonders the depth of corruption that must exist. What else could it be?


Mainers For Fair Bear Hunting Fails to Convince Supreme Court to Hear Case…BUT…

According an article I just read from George Smith of the Bangor Daily News, Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the front name for the Humane Society of the United States, failed to convince members of the Maine Supreme Court to hear their case against the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) for alleged violations when MDIFW campaigned against a Humane Society of the United State’s ballot initiative to end bear hunting.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, this effort was geared toward convincing the Court to hear an appeal. According to Smith, that convincing didn’t go so well but the Court did not issue a decision.

Smith brings up an interesting point that may need a closer look at. In writing about the focus of the HSUS’ case, Smith quotes the attorney for HSUS as saying, “We are challenging their use of taxpayer money to campaign against the initiative, not their right to speak on the issue.”

Smith provides his own commentary: “At that point I wanted to jump up and shout, DIF&W did not spend taxpayer dollars. They get no taxpayer dollars! Sportsmen pay all the bills at that state agency, although we have tried, for decades, to win General Fund tax dollars for DIF&W, without success.”

The Supreme Court evidently did not offer any information directly to the core of the appeal as to whether or not MDIFW could use taxpayer money to campaign against a citizen’s initiative. All the Court basically said was that because the referendum has been voted on, the case is moot – which is exactly as the Lower Court ruled.

Smith further explains: “I took great interest in a part of the discussion that focused on whether or not DIF&W and other state agencies should be able to testify at the legislature for or against bills. That is a great analogy really. One Justice noted that, “The citizen initiative process is exactly like the legislative process, it just puts the issue in front of the people.” That Justice asked Wertheimer, “Isn’t the proper place for your argument the legislature?”

It appears however that this matter may not be that cut and dry. I recall in the debates that have taken place earlier about HSUS trying to censor MDIFW, that Maine has certain “ethics” when it comes to “using taxpayer money” by a department in providing testimony. The question seems to be whether or not Maine law prohibits any member of a state agency to actively campaign for or against a citizen-brought referendum, and whether it is prohibited as such because it is improper use of taxpayer’s money?

Perhaps this question will be decided at a later time. One Maine Supreme Court justice asked if the answer to such a question should be sought in the Maine Legislature.

And what if it is? What will happen? Will the Legislature or the Courts try to tell members of a department, funded by voluntary payments for licenses and registrations that they are prohibited to speak out on issues?

Perhaps a bit unknowingly, Smith, a proponent and activist for funding the MDIFW with General Fund money, provided good evidence as to why such an effort might not be so good. If it is deemed “unethical,” either through existing statutes or future statutes, that public taxpayer money cannot be used to campaign for or against any initiative, then how would such a law effect the MDIFW where none of it’s money comes from General Fund taxes? Funding is provided by voluntary fee payments for licenses and registrations. Probably it is a good thing MDIFW isn’t funded by general tax dollars.

People shouldn’t forget that these political doorways swing in more than one direction. Anytime laws are written to restrict one’s freedom of speech or create more regulations that stifle progress, generally don’t do anybody any good. What seemed to work out good for the bear hunters this time, might bite them in the hind end the next.


Maine Court Will Consider Appeal of Earlier Moot Decision on MDIFW Campaign Conduct

According to an article in the Bangor Daily News, the Maine Supreme Court will consider an appeal of a lower court ruling declaring a court challenge as “moot” because the lawsuit never came to the courts until after the referendum was voted on. The appeal comes from the totalitarian group, Mainer’s for Fair Bear Hunting (MFFBH), a front name for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

The issue here is whether or not an appeal should be granted. It appears that MFFBH is seeking an appeal based on their assumption that Justice Joyce Wheeler’s decision to dismiss the case because the referendum had already been decided, was an act that warrants an appeal. The higher court will decide.

If the appeal is granted, then the Supreme Court will hear MFFBH’s lawsuit.

What is laughable in all of this is the double standards broadly revealed by this anti-human group in which it wants their legal rights protected at the cost of taking away the rights of other in order that they can get their way.

I have never supported any law that diminishes anyone’s right to petition the state or any other right. While it may be troubling and upsetting to some that any totalitarian group, in their psychotic ways, moves to destroy the lifestyles of others, hidden behind the perverted scheme of animal welfare and protection, there is a due process, with civil rights that are extended to everyone, whether we like it or not.

It’s unfortunate the totalitarians don’t see it the same way (that’s why they are totalitarians, doing the work of the fascists).

Maine sportsmen organizations have tried to get laws passed that would prohibit or limit the rights of people (even those opposed to hunting, fishing and trapping) to petition the state on issues of wildlife management. As it most always appears, and probably is, a waste of time and money, the right does and should exist. That door swings both ways.

In the case of the bear hunting referendum of this past year, the Humane Society of the United States, were doing everything they could to limit the speech and the ability to do their jobs, of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. It became clear early on in the campaign that MDIFW’s education program was very effective in teaching voters about the science of bear management and the difficulties it faced in carrying out their legislative mandate to care for a healthy bear population. The HSUS saw this as a trouble spot and so came the lawsuit demanding the courts put an end to MDIFW’s education program.

If the appeal is granted, I’m assuming this will be the meat of the case – that MDIFW did not follow the laws in the books about how the department may or may not participate in such campaigns.

Whether the appeal is granted or not, the issue needs to be addressed. It is my opinion that voters have the right to hear from all Maine Government departments on any issues that affect the departments and thus the voters themselves. How else can voters make informed and intelligent decisions? If the court determines that what MDIFW did during the bear referendum campaign to be in violation of existing laws, then efforts should be taken to get those laws changed. That’s how the process is supposed to work.

While it is clear that the HSUS, i.e. Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting’s goal is to end bear hunting, and all hunting and trapping, their real hope here is to be able to censor MDIFW. With censorship in hand, the next time the totalitarians muster a petition to change the desired lifestyles of the many Maine residents, they will know that the departments mouths have been zipped shut and thus their propaganda can flourish unchallenged. And just whom does that benefit other than just psychotic animal rights groups and environmentalists?