These are not particularly joyous days for legal fans of a liberal bent, seeing as how SCOTUS has just brought us ever-closer to selling naming rights to federal buildings. (The “1-800-FLOWERS White House Rose Garden” has a nice ring to it.) If you fall into that ideological category, let us brighten your day a tad by recalling a triumph of yore: the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal’s landmark decision in Engblom v. Carey, which resulted in a more expansive understanding of the Third Amendment.
The case in question all started with a 1979 prison guard strike in upstate New York, during which 260 National Guardsmen was called in to watch after the inmates. The prison’s management decided to quarter these troops in a dormitory where the guards lived, a move that required the eviction of the striking workers. Among those kicked out of their government provided home were Marianne Engblom and Charles Palmer, a couple who would later go on to marry. They were forced to spend several nights in their car, an indignity that spurred them to sue New York State for $4 million.
Engblom and Palmer contended that the warden’s actions had violated the Third Amendment’s ban on the billeting of troops in private homes. (The amendment is tidily summed up in cartoon form here.) A lower court ruled against the couple, but the Court of Appeals saw it their way—despite the fact that the Third Amendment pretty explicitly states that it applies only to the owners of properties, not tenants.
We don’t know what became of Engblom and Palmer, but we hope they’ve gotten plenty of mileage out of telling folks about the role they played in legal history. And if they’ve passed on, we hope they’re sharing a tall cold one in the sky with James Madison, for whom the Third Amendment was of vital importance.