Let's continue our series on the Bill of Rights, the most important and least understood legal document in the United States of America. Recently, Amendment Uno and Amendment Dos have been at the forefront of the news cycle. In fact, the first two amendments are always a point of conflict in this country, with cases going all the way to the Supreme Court in order to determine the correct constitutional interpretation of those rights within the context of contemporary society. But what about Numero Tres? What is the Third Amendment? Quick, just yell it out all at once. I will typically ask this when I am doing standup on stage or in person, and very few people know. We all know One and Two. We all know you can take the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination. Four has something to do with privacy or something, but what the hell is Three?
I broke down and looked it up on Wikipedia-
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.
First, I thought quarter meant to divide into fourths like when butchering an animal and was confused. Were the American colonists forced to butcher British soldiers in their homes? By England? What a creepy and self-defeating policy, no wonder they lost the war! Then I realized “quarter” was being used as in “giving quarter” to someone. No, not what the homeless guy wants from you, well actually, whether its twenty-five cents or shelter, he wants both.
In the context of the Third Amendment, the guarantees against quartering soldiers referred to the Quartering Acts by the British. The increase in military presence and the conflicts that inevitably arose from a bunch of dudes staying in your house, drinking your food, hopefully not raping your wife, kids, or you, one could see how public opinion would quickly sour against these laws.
James Madison introduced the Third Amendment as a response to the Anti-Federalists who thought that having a central government and military would lead to the same abuses of power they experience from the Crown. Also, since these were a bunch of guys who had just deposed the most powerful empire in the world through armed insurrection, they were probably conscious of the fact that a strong central government would seek to suppress any further revolutionary behavior. Madison, was like, “Fine! We’ll put in an amendment that says the gov’t can’t store its troops in your homes. In short, the Bill of Rights was a response to the fear of an overly powerful gubmint. Perhaps the logic of the first three amendments is this-
AMENDMENT UNO- I can say, print, and perform anything I want. I can pray to whoever I want. I can assemble wherever I want!
AMENDMENT DOS- You come to take my freedom, you’re gonna have to take away my gun first, because I will shoot you in the face to protect my freedom.
AMENDMENT TRES- Oh, what you think you can come take my guns? You gonna bring your gubmint troops to my town to take over? Well you can’t stay at my house!
The thing to mention is that the Third Amendment doesn’t expressly forbid quartering troops, just in times of peace and under the law during wartime. These Founding Father guys seemed pretty smart and left all kinds of tricky language in there for future Americans to mull over and argue about like a bunch of rabbis. The Second Amendment uses the term “well-regulated militia” and we still argue over its meaning to this day.
The Third Amendment, however, happens to be the least contested Amendment in US history. It has never had a court case go to the Supreme Court in our 240 year history, probably because the case would be the US military vs Joe Schmo arguing about whether soldiers could crash at his place. The military did a great job of creating more bases than any other power in human history, so that they wouldn’t have to couch surf in case the Canadians invaded.
A few legal scholars have brought up that the Third Amendment could be used to contest the NSA’s mass surveillance program in the Supreme Court. The logic goes, since the NSA is a part of the Dept. of Defense, it should be considered a military presence. Since part of the violation of a citizen who had to quarter a soldier was of their privacy, the NSA spying on all of us is like-wise a military presence that causes stress from invading the privacy of its citizens. Even the few scholars consider that such a case would be unlikely simply because there is zero precedent for interpreting the Third Amendment, giving the Supreme Court very little to work with. Well, there has to be a first time for everything.