The third amendment to our Constitution is considered the least litigated amendment and not that applicable to modern day society. However, it does protect citizens in a few ways, even if not as intended originally by our Founding Fathers. The States ratified it on December 15, 1791. The original text of the 3rd Amendment reads:
“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 prevents the government from using someone’s private home to house soldiers in time of war or peace without their consent. This amendment was born out of the tyranny felt by American settlers during the American Revolutionary War. The British government used Quartering Acts to force Americans to house British soldiers in their homes against their will. To protect U.S. citizens of this ever happening again, James Madison included the 3rd Amendment into the Bill of Rights.
Since its ratification, the 3rd Amendment has also taken on another meaning to protect U.S. citizen’s private property from universal government use or seizure during or without war. The idea is to limit the power of the government, so it does not operate with impunity as the British government did under historical laws.
During 1765 when British barracks provided limited space for soldiers, Parliament instated the Quartering Acts, which allowed the British Army to force American settlers to open their homes to soldiers. Settlers saw this as intolerable and along with other grievances eventually led to the Boston Tea Party and the revolution that broke American off from the British government.
When James Madison proposed the Bill of Rights to accompany the U.S. Constitution, the long-held resentment over the Quartering Acts was revealed in Amendment III. The Quartering Acts also forced colonists to fund the support of troops fighting on American soil, causing a lot of upset and distrust of the British government.
Although the Supreme Court has never decided a 3rd Amendment case and it is the most un-litigated amendment, there have been a few instances where it came into play.
In 1965 Justice William O. Douglas references the 3rd Amendment during the Griswold v. Connecticut case where he claimed that the 3rd Amendment “implied a belief that an individual’s home should be free from agents of the state.” The case was about individuals using contraception in the privacy of their own homes. This landmark case changed the law and protected U.S. citizen’s rights to privacy and birth control.
The 3rd Amendment was again cited during Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer (1952) in a case involving the rights of the government to seize private property. The justices claimed that the Framers intended to protect against too much Executive power, even during a war.
In 1982 prison officials took their case to federal court with the Engblom v. Carey case. In 1979 after a prison strike, officials were evicted from their on-site homes, and the National Guard took up residence. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit argued that the term “owner” from the 3rd Amendment applied to tenants living on the property and they had been illegally evicted and that the National Guard was essentially government soldiers.
In a more recent case in 2015, Mitchell v. City of Henderson where courts ruled that the 3rd Amendment did not apply because police, despite their uniforms and equipment are not soldiers.
A tenant of a rent-controlled apartment building argued that the rent-controlled law was “the incubator and hatchery of swarms of bureaucrats to be quartered as storm troopers upon the people in violation of Amendment III of the United States Constitution.” The court denied his request, and he lost the case.
Because we haven’t had a war on American soil for many years, the 3rd Amendment doesn’t often come into play. In one area where it does is protecting the rights to privacy of homeowners.
In our modern society, the 3rd Amendment does still protect the privacy of individuals with eminent domain laws. There is some talk that it may also address how our government is handling terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
Even though it is rare for the 3rd Amendment to be cited in court cases, if we ever do have another war in the U.S., it is comforting to know that the government cannot just take over private homes to house soldiers and we cannot be forced to fund them financially.
All of the Amendments have their place and protect American liberties in one way or another, no matter how large or small.