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The Third Amendment states

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.

This oft-overlooked amendment states that soldiers cannot be housed in a privately-owned building without the owner's consent in peacetime. During times of war, this amendment may be overruled in a manner "prescribed by law."

What law is being referenced? During a war can American soldiers commandeer my house?

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    It seems to me that this clause gives Congress and/or the states the authority to make a law governing quartering soldiers during wartime; but it does not obligate them to do so and it's entirely possible that they never actually did. Hard to prove a negative, though. Sep 12, 2022 at 20:59
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    I’ve deleted the cross post on politics and preserved this one
    – PausePause
    Sep 12, 2022 at 21:12
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    You might have considered deleting this one and leaving the other one as it had an answer at the time you deleted it.
    – Joe W
    Sep 12, 2022 at 21:20
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    @DanielHatton it's outside the scope of the amendment, but even if it were not, there's always the possibility that the soldiers were there with the consent of the owner.
    – phoog
    Sep 14, 2022 at 22:36

2 Answers 2

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Meaning of the Third Amendment

The US Third amendment means that if the US ever wants to quarter soldiers in private houses (or other dwellings), without the consent of the owners, it can only do so in time of war, and only in accordance with some law that Congress passes, authorizing such action and providing procedures for it. To the best of my knowledge, Congress has never passed any such law, and so no such "quartering" would be permissible, even during wartime.

Note that the text of the amendment says "house". This provision might be extended to other dwellings, such as apartment buildings, but probably not to any "privately-owned building" that is not a residence (that is, was not previously a dwelling). Such non-residences are not protected by the Third Amendment , although the takings clause of the Fifth might apply, as might the Due Process clause, depending on the circumstances. Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) would be relevant in such a case.

Engblom v. Carey

The amendment was invoked and interpreted in Engblom v. Carey, 677 F.2d 957 (2d Cir. 1982). This is said by Wikipedia to be the first decision at the circuit court level interpreting the amendment or depending on its provisions. It has never been the basis for a US Supreme Court decision

In 1979 there was a state-wide strike of NY corrections officers (prison employees). NY National Guard troops were deployed by the state. Staff had been rented apartments as part of their employment agreement.

Guard troops were first housed in administrative buildings and school buildings at or near the prison. But after five days striking officer were evicted by the state, and Guard troops were housed in dorms so vacated.

Two of the officers sued. The second circuit court held that:

  1. the National Guard troops are in fact soldiers under the Third Amendment;
  2. the Third Amendment applies to state as well as federal authorities, i.e., is incorporated against the states; and
  3. the protection of the Third Amendment extends beyond homeowners, but covers anyone who, within their residence, has a legal expectation of privacy and a legal right to exclude others from entering into the premises. That is, tenants and other lawful residents are protected.

Issues Mentioned in the Question

What law is being referenced?

No such law currently exists. Congress could pass one in the future.

During a war can American soldiers commandeer my house?

Only if Congress passes such a law, and then only if whatever procedures that are "prescribed" by the law Congress passes are followed."

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dale M
    Sep 15, 2022 at 3:27
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What law is being referenced?

Any law that might be passed in the future. In other words, the amendment means "Congress can pass a law to create a procedure whereby soldiers may be quartered, during a time of war only, in a house without the owner's consent, but the law can only be applicable during a time of war." The law didn't exist when the constitution was written.

During a war can American soldiers commandeer my house?

Yes, but only if there is a law on the books that permits them to do so, and only if they follow the provisions of that law.

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  • In practice, I'm not sure that it has ever been invoked. And it heavily overlaps with the 5th Amendment takings clause.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 12, 2022 at 22:12
  • @ohwilleke so I would think. If it ever was invoked, I suppose the war of 1812 is the most likely candidate, though the civil war is another possibility.
    – phoog
    Sep 12, 2022 at 22:16
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    @ohwilleke I believe there was onr case that invoked jhe 3rd, but I don't have a citation or details. IIRC the case involved a prison, perhaps in NY state, that provided housing to employees. During an emergency such housing was used by prison officials without consent, and the 3rd was invoked in a subsequent suit. The case was Engblom v. Carey, 677 F.2d 957 (2d Cir. 1982) Sep 12, 2022 at 22:19
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    Only five reported cases have ever even discussed it: Katz v. U.S., 389 U.S. 347 (1967) (example of a constitutional privacy right), Custer County Action Ass'n v. Garvey, 256 F.3d 1024 (10th Cir. 2001) (airspace doesn't count); Engblom v. Carey, 677 F.2d 957 (2d Cir. 1982) (prison guards' dorm to be used by nat'l guard while prison guards were on strike covered by 3rd A); Jones v. U.S. Secretary of Defense, 346 F.Supp. 97 (D. Minn. 1972) (requirement for nat'l guard to be in parade not covered); U.S. v. Valenzuela, 95 F.Supp. 363 (S.D.Cal.1951) (civilian bureaucrats aren't soldiers).
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 12, 2022 at 22:24
  • "No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner". Interestingly, it says "owner", not whoever is lawfully living in the place. Normally, if I rent a place the owner has absolutely no right to allow anyone to live in my home. In Engblom v. Carey I assume the owner agreed?
    – gnasher729
    Sep 15, 2022 at 10:12

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