Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Third Amendment

For those of you old enough to get the reference, the Third Amendment is kind of the Rodney Dangerfield of the Bill of Rights - it gets no respect, no respect at all...  This is probably the least-well-known (which is bad) and least-litigated (which is good) of all the amendments.  A quick reading will probably tell you why:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the
Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Pretty simple, isn't it?  The government can't use your house to quarter troops.  They need to find their own shelter.  Seems rather silly, doesn't it?  I mean, has this ever happened to you or to anyone you know?  No, it has not.  This amendment has never been tested or ruled on by the Supreme Court, though it has been referenced from time to time as supporting evidence for a more general "right to privacy", but that seems a bit of a stretch, if you ask me.  Lawsuits have been filed that have alleged Third Amendment violations, but none have been found to have enough merit to actually make it to the Supreme Court.

So, why is this even in the Bill of Rights?  Remember, during colonial times, the British would essentially commandeer people's houses for their troops.  After all, why go to the effort and expense of building barracks when yo can just "appropriate" already-built houses and demand food and shelter, in the name of the King?  Thomas Jefferson addressed this problem in the Declaration of Independence:

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us.

The Bill of Rights was in some cases as much a  reaction to the previous actions of the British as it was to the worries about the new American government, and this seems to be one case.  Could this amendment ever come into play in the modern U.S?  Theoretically, of course, but Congress would have to pass a law authorizing it (which would be a tough sell).  Also, the modern U.S. military is so mobile and has such great capabilities of its own for feeding and sheltering itself, it makes the idea of using civilian housing this way rather a moot point.  Perhaps in the case of an enormous disaster, it could happen, but then again, look at the previous disasters (Katrina, Sandy, et al) - civilian homes were unusable, anyway.  Not to say this could never happen, but among all the amendments and provisions of the Bill of Rights the government could violate, this seems the least likely.  Sadly, it seems this poor little amendment has been relegated to the status of "great trivia question".  Sleep soundly in your home.

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