As we begin Constitution Week on Sunday, how about a little love for that all-too-neglected constitutional right, the Third Amendment? Oh sure, we hear a lot about the First and the Second, and even the Fourth and the Fifth. But the Third is always left out of any conversation about the Bill of Rights.
You remember it, don’t you? It’s the one about the quartering of troops. You might think it’s outdated, since it has, indeed, been some time since the British made us house and feed its soldiers.
But you would be wrong. In recent months, the Third Amendment has been cited in a nationally cited case.
First, the facts.
“A family is suing the city of Henderson, Nevada for violating their Third Amendment rights - the constitutional prohibition against quartering soldiers in a private home during peacetime without the owner’s consent,” the Daily Caller reported in 2013. “The Mitchell family says that’s essentially what happened when Henderson police allegedly arrested them for refusing to let officers use their homes for a ‘tactical advantage’ in a domestic violence investigation into a neighbor, according to an official complaint.”
Police had contacted Anthony Mitchell to ask to use his home so they could conduct surveillance on his neighbor. Mitchell didn’t want to get involved, so he said no. It seems the police weren’t actually asking.
“First officers smashed open Mitchell’s door with a metal ram after he did not immediately open it himself,” the Daily Caller explained. “He then ‘curled on the floor of his living room, with his hands over his face,’ as the police shot Mitchell and his dog - which the family claims did not attack the officers - several times with ‘pepperball’ rounds.”
Mitchell and his father were both arrested, though the charges were later dropped.
University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds says the family may have a case - largely due to the militarization of our civilian police forces.
“Should the Third Amendment have something to say about this?” Reynolds wrote for USA Today. “Well, it speaks only to ‘troops,’ not police - but then, professional police in the modern sense hadn’t been invented at the time of the framing… Armed minions of the state seizing your home by force seem close enough to ‘troops’ for me.”
Sadly, a federal court disagreed.
“I hold that a municipal police officer is not a soldier for purposes of the Third Amendment,” Judge Andrew Gordon. “This squares with the purpose of the Third Amendment because this was not a military intrusion into a private home, and thus the intrusion is more effectively protected by the Fourth Amendment. Because I hold that municipal officers are not soldiers for the purposes of this question, I need not reach the question of whether the occupation at issue in this case constitutes quartering.”
Yet it’s still worth giving thought to what the Third and the Fourth Amendments established - the idea that each family’s home is its castle.
And the case shows why each amendment is worth preserving, and worthy of a little love.