LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 03: National Guard troops are posted outside the District Attorney's office during a peaceful demonstration over George Floyd’s death on June 3, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. California Governor Gavin Newsom deployed National Guard troops to Los Angeles County following unrest which occurred amid some demonstrations. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was taken into custody for Floyd's death and is now charged with second-degree murder while three other former officers have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

For the First Time in Centuries, the Third Amendment Matters

But what is it?
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And just like that, 2020 got even weirder. For the first time in … ever, people are talking about the Third Amendment of the Bill of Rights. Thanks to a misguided senator, Mike Lee, who thinks that troops that haven been called up to fight against our own people are entitled to rooms in hotels, we all get to remind him, and this administration, that troops don’t just get to come into home or hotels.

First off, you may be asking “What is the Third Amendment? I’ve never heard of it!” And that’s because it’s not sexy like the first with all that freedom of speech and assembly and worship, or creepy like the second with its guns. It’s about … quartering troops. Fun, huh?

Here’s the text:

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.

Simple right? And weird. Even John Mulaney has done a bit about it, because it just never seemed relevant.

Welp, turns out that when a nation rises in protest of systemic racism and police brutality, and troops are called in to suppress said protests, that weird little amendment becomes super relevant. But it is weird so maybe that’s what Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah was so confused when the Mayor of DC kicked troops out of hotels, which yes, under the 3rd, have no obligation to house troops:

Now, John Mulaney made a good point in the bit embed above: why is this the third thing in the Bill of Rights? And why are guns second? In order to understand both of those, and indeed, most of the Bill of Rights, you have to look at the context in which it was written. Nearly every amendment in the Bill of Rights was in direct response to oppressive acts and laws that the British forced on America to keep them under control.

In the lead up to the American Revolution, the Brits enacted the Intolerable Acts, which took away much colonial sovereignty, taxed them, and screwed with the justice system. And also required that British troops be housed and paid for by the colonies. Things like making sure militias were armed (NOT PRIVATE CITIZENS), that people could speak out and assemble, have fair trials and not have their homes searched or their property seized, have a fair jury and even not have to quarter troops were all in direct response to oppression from the crown—these were all a response to real conditions colonists had faced.

The Third Amendment was always the red-headed step-child of the Bill of Rights, but it, like so many other amendments, was enacted to prevent the nascent US government and states from sliding into tyranny. It took us several hundred years, but that’s what it’s doing now. A government that forces private home and businesses to quarter troops in time of peace is not a just one, and this is the kind of nonsense the founding fathers were worried about.

It is amazing and yet so fitting that even the Third Amendment is rising to slap down Trump and the oppressive systems he wants to perpetuate. It’s also pretty great for incredibly nerdy jokes on Twitter at the expense of Senator Lee (who deserves every bit of derision) and other Trump enablers like Lindsay Graham.

And this, my friends, is why the Constitution matters.

(image: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.