On Oct. 22, Maine Superior Court Justice Joyce Wheeler denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by the ad-hoc group Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting and Katie Hansberry, an employee of the animal-rights group Humane Society of the United States. Their request sought to block television commercials opposed to Question 1 in Maine, which will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, and which informed the public of fact-based wildlife management issues and public safety concerns.
“We are obviously pleased with Justice Wheeler’s ruling, but not surprised,” said Nick Pinizzotto, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance president and CEO. “This was clearly a case of the HSUS-led Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting wasting everyone’s time by bringing a frivolous lawsuit designed to draw the attention of voters away from the facts that they cannot avoid.”
Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting objected to the appearance of uniformed state biologists speaking out against Question 1, which would ban the use of bait, dogs and traps when hunting bears. Their contention was that it is impermissible and unfair for state employees to become involved in the political process by influencing public opinion, regardless of their expertise on the matter and the direct impact to the department, as well as their assigned duties to the public.
The anti-hunting agenda of the Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting sought to remove all instances of opposition by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife from its website and social media platforms, and to block commercials featuring uniformed employees voicing the department’s management and public-safety concerns from appearing on television in the final weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 vote.
In denying all motions brought forth by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, Wheeler overwhelming sided with the right of the state to provide comment.
“Restricting speech on contested public issues is directly contrary to the public interest, which favors a robust and dynamic public discourse. It is the voters, not the Plaintiffs or the courts, to assess the relative merits of conflicting speech,” wrote Wheeler in her decision, citing harm to public interest should the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s views, which fall squarely within its interest and duties, be silenced. “DIFW’s advocacy activities are based on their experience and expertise and relate to initiatives that it perceives would have serious consequences for their effective management of Maine’s bear population.”
Justice Wheeler’s ruling was a resounding blow to the flawed logic of Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting. In giving her ruling, Wheeler made it clear that they failed to meet any of the legal conditions required, let alone all of thresholds required to grant the temporary restraining order that would have muzzled the DIFW’s outspoken opposition to Question 1.
“Today’s ruling is clear and convincing, and speaks to the need to hear from the only true experts on this issue—and that’s the wildlife management professionals at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,” said Evan Heusinkveld, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance vice president of government affairs. “HSUS and their front group can try and divert attention from their anti-hunting agenda, but Mainers will head to the ballot box with full knowledge of just how dangerous Question 1 is, and how it will impact their lives, livelihoods and safety.”