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  • Writer's pictureMichael Sauls

The Not So Flashy Third Amendment

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.

The third amendment meant doesn’t get a lot of attention like many other amendments do. It is a result of complaints against the British empire during the build up to the revolutionary war.

During this time frame King George demanded that the colonists provide barracks for British soldiers. If no barracks were available then they would move into peoples homes. After an incident where soldiers shot five civilians it became a major source of public outcry.

British soldiers often abused their unwilling hosts. They used up valuable resources the colonists needed to feed their families and complaints were usually ignored.

The third hasn’t been a subject of many court cases but many legal experts agree that there are some important aspects of this law that are often overlooked. Mainly this law deals with citizens right to privacy and forbids the federal government from confiscating private property for its own purposes.

It has been used in connection with other amendments in a few court cases. One case in 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut, the court argued that the First, Third, Fourth and Ninth Amendments suggested a right to privacy, and that this gave married couples the right to use contraception.

Another argument that has come up is the definition of the word soldier. In a 1982 case Engblom vs Carey the court determined that national guard troops are soldiers.

The implications of the third amendment in this modern age could further challenge the definition of soldier. Can members of paramilitary federal agencies like the FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, ATF, etc. be defined as soldiers? How about state and local police who have become paramilitary agencies boasting the same military equipment, uniforms, weapons and training as our official military?

The digital age could redefine what it means to quarter soldiers. Does 24/7 surveillance count as being quartered? Think about it. The complaint against quartering was in part due to complete loss of privacy. So isn’t having someone constantly listening in and watching citizens similar to having a soldier in your living room watching your every move and reporting it all to his superiors?

We have no redress to complain about this abuse of power just as the colonists did not. If a government agent uses his spying ability to make a citizen the unwilling and unknowing subject of his porn addiction then we just have to put up with it. In much the same way colonist raped by soldiers had no one to complain to we are just stuck with suffering this abuse.

So maybe the third isn’t the attention grabber that the first and second are but it is still important. Hopefully getting people to think about it will encourage change for the better in the future.

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