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The Third Amendment: Still Relevant

July 5, 2013

Of the original 10 amendments known as ‘the Bill of Rights,’ the one least-known, and the only one never the primary subject of a Supreme Court case is the Third Amendment, which the Founders added to the Constitution because of their memories of the abuses visited upon them by the British ‘Quartering Act.’  Until now, there has been virtually no legal action of any kind that cited it (with Griswold v. Connecticut a notable exception).  Until now.  A Nevada family claims to have been terrorized  by local police who wanted to occupy their homes for ‘tactical advantage’ in dealing with an alleged crime in a neighboring home that had nothing to do with them.  Their refusal of entry to the police led to their door being knocked down, a family pet being pepper-sprayed, abuse and threats hurled at them before an arrest leading to dropped charges after a short jail stay, and to the lawsuit in question.  their suit claims, among other things, that the arrest and detention were merely tactics to facilitate entry and occupation of their property, and that said occupation violated the Third Amendment, which 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.”

If one accepts the idea that human nature is a constant, and that human affairs often reprise, without actually repeating, the actions of past epochs, it may not be surprising that something as long-dormant as the occupation of private dwellings by government troops (whether called ‘police’ or ‘soldiers,’ SWAT teams and other tactical law-enforcement units train, equip and act like soldiers, rendering the distinction academic) should rise to the surface of our affairs once again.  The facts of the case in question are for a jury to decide; that is as it should be.  What matters more to us, as citizens and students of government, is that this lesson in the fragility of our rights and customs not go unlearned.  Any right that can be taken away in the name of expediency ceases to be one, and becomes merely a custom, an indulgence, to be granted or withdrawn at pleasure.  This is what we should remember – and work to forestall, if we would continue to live in a civil (as opposed to a militarized) society.

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