For all the problems facing the United States in the early years of the 21st century—mission creep, gridlock, cat poop—the unlawful quartering of soldiers in Americans' homes during times of peace is one we've managed to avoid. The Third Amendment, which bans quartering, was adopted in 1791 in response to British conduct during the American Revolution. Since then, quartering hasn't been a significant problem. Just take it from the Onion, which a few years ago heralded the unparalleled success of the "National Anti-Quartering Association," the nation's most successful civil rights lobbying group. Until now, anyway.
Last week, a homeowner in Henderson, Nevada, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that police had violated his Third Amendment rights by forcibly entering his home to gain a "tactical advantage" in resolving a domestic violence incident next door. But it's not clear that police officers would count as "soldiers" under the Third Amendment (in the one similar case I found, the court rejected that idea), nor is it clear whether the Third Amendment applies to the states at all.
With the exception of a cameo in the landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut, which established a constitutional right to privacy, Third Amendment lawsuits have been limited to bizarre claims about airplane flight paths, cattle ranches, and rent control. Rent control? Rent control. Here's a look:
Bennett v. Wainwright, US District Court for the District of Maine, 2007
Topic: Police raids.
Argument: The plaintiffs argued that a police raid that ended with a resident being shot and killed by a state trooper constituted an illegal occupation.
Ruling: "There is no sense in which a single state trooper and several deputy sheriffs can be considered 'soldiers' within the meaning of that word as it is used in the amendment nor in which the use of a house presumably owned by one of the plaintiffs for a period of fewer than 24 hours could be construed as 'quartering' within the scope of the amendment."
Johnson v. United States, US District Court for the Western District of Texas, 2001
Argument: "Plaintiffs essentially contend the defendant United States of America, while doing its best in the military defense of its citizens, nevertheless quartered its chemicals on plaintiffs' properties without permission or reasonable compensation, leaving a toxic footprint on the earth." In the words of the plaintiffs, they had been "invaded and occupied by toxic chemicals."
Ruling: Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.
Custer County Auction Association v. Garvey, US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, 2001
Argument: "Petitioners insist they have a Third Amendment right 'to refuse military aircraft training in airspace within the immediate reaches of their property,' and that military overflights occurring in the immediate reaches of their property during peacetime, and without their consent, 'are per se unconstitutional.'"
Ruling: "We simply do not believe the Framers intended the Third Amendment to be used to prevent the military from regulated, lawful use of airspace above private property without the property owners' consent."
Ramirez de Arellano v. Weinberger, US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, 1984
Argument: "Temistocles Ramirez de Arellano (Ramirez), a United States citizen, claims that the Secretaries of State and Defense are operating a large military facility for training Salvadoran soldiers on his private [cattle] ranch without permission or lawful authority, in violation of the Constitution."
Ruling: The case was dismissed.
Engblom v. Carey, US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 1981
Argument: "[P]laintiffs-appellants contend that their due process and Third Amendment rights were violated during a statewide strike of correction officers in April and May of 1979 when they were evicted from their facility-residences without notice or hearing and their residences were used to house members of the National Guard without their consent."
Ruling: "[Plaintiffs] must have known that substitute personnel would be required during a strike. Since they are employees of a prison, they may properly be charged with knowledge of the risks and limitations on their 'rights' as occupants of prison housing."
Securities Investor Protection Corp. v. Executive Securities Corp., US District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1977
Argument: Trustee for a securities firm couldn't be compelled to testify by subpoena because that would constitute unlawful quartering. (It didn’t make sense to us, either.)
Ruling: "The Court will not address itself at any length to Bertoli's claim of privilege based on the first, third, fourth, sixth, eighth, ninth and fourteenth amendments, since they are completely inapposite under the facts and circumstances of this case."
Jones v. Secretary of Defense, US District Court for the District of Minnesota, 1972
Keystone Pictures USA/ZumaPress.com
Topic: Marching with Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Argument: Army reservists were compelled against their will to march in a civil parade with political candidates they opposed.
Ruling: "By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that the reservists in this action are being banded together to execute the civil or criminal laws of the United States or of a state or county. Equally inapposite is plaintiffs' claim that the parade order violates the Third Amendment of the constitution, which prohibits the quartering of soldiers in peace time without the owner's consent, or other specific Constitutional provisions."
United States v. Valenzuela, US District Court for the Southern District of California, 1951
Argument: "The 1947 House and Rent Act as amended and extended is and always was the incubator and hatchery of swarms of bureaucrats to be quartered as storm troopers upon the people in violation of Amendment III of the United States Constitution."
Ruling: "The Housing and Rent Act of 1947 does not violate constitutional provisions that no soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house without consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law, on ground that the act is an incubator and hatchery of swarms of bureaucrats to be quartered as storm troopers on the people."
Given the nature of the Third Amendment, if the Supreme Court ever does comes around to making a broad interpretive ruling on the armed occupation of civilian homes, we'll probably have bigger problems on our hands. For now, we need to talk about those cats.
During his tenure as Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott has developed a bit of a routine: "I go into the office," he told a GOP audience in San Angelo in Februrary, "I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home." It's a line he uses in virtually every speech he gives and it has the benefit of being basically true. Abbott has sued the Obama administration 27 times in five years. Now he might be getting a promotion.
After Gov. Rick Perry's announcement on Monday that he will not seek reelection for a fourth time in 2014—while leaving the door open, improbably, for another presidential run—Abbott, who is expected to announce a gubernatorial bid as early as Sunday, is now the favorite to be the chief executive of the nation's second-biggest state. (A recent survey by Public Policy Polling gave him a 8-point advantage over the Democrats' top prospective recruit, state Sen. Wendy Davis.) More than a few people will hail the departure of Perry, a politician who embraced crony capitalism, supported criminalizing sodomy, crushed abortion rights, and almost certainly allowed an innocent man die. That's about right. But in the hyperlitigious Abbott, Texas Republicans have a replacement who may just do the impossible—make progressives miss Rick Perry.
Someone (probably a journalist) sleeping at an airport (probably in Moscow) while waiting for a flight (to Cuba, probably).
"Eighteen hours after their fools' errand of a flight landed in Havana, much of the Moscow-based press corps is still stranded continents away from the Snowden story they were chasing: sightseeing in the region, sniffing around the José Martí airport and wondering who exactly set them up."—Washington Post, June 25.
"Moscow's main airport swarmed with journalists from around the globe Wednesday, but the man they were looking for, National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, was nowhere to be seen." —Washington Post, June 26.
"Last week, journalists staked out a chain called Shokoladnitsa, hoping they would find Snowden drinking a $7 cappuccino or an $11 nonalcoholic mojito with $9 blini and red caviar." —Washington Post, July 4.
Since late June, reporters from some of the world's most prestigious news outlets have been holed up at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is believed to be in diplomatic limbo in the airport transit zone. Or perhaps he's in Hong Kong still. Or he's on a plane. He's definitely somewhere. Provided he's not actually just a hologram. In the meantime, the journalists pursuing the story have become the story. So what exactly are those reporters doing in Moscow? Here's an exclusive look:
7:00 a.m. Rise and shine! Remind yourself that you're assigned to a major international news story involving diplomatic intrigue and espionage. You're in a foreign country. Some people would give anything to have your job.
7:20 a.m. Steal soap from hotel bathroom in case you have to catch a flight out today on short notice.
7:40 a.m. Arrive at Terminal F. Confidently inform your editor that you believe Snowden is likely to show up at a coffee shop with working power outlets.
7:42 a.m. Chase the story! Camp out at a coffee shop with working power outlets.
8:30 a.m.Survey of friends on G-chat concludes that drinking in the morning is okay as long as you're at an airport.
9:16 a.m. Reluctantly change "Alec Baldwin" Google alert from "once a week" to "as it happens."
10:46 a.m. Buy Bitcoins, "just to see what happens" and because "maybe there's a story there."
10:47 a.m. Sell Bitcoins.
11:15 a.m. Check Duty Free shop. Again.
11:35 a.m. Lanky bespectacled twenty-something white male spotted slouching through terminal F. This is it!
11:38 a.m. Bespectacled twenty-something white male is Dieter Hoefengarden, 27, a freelance ornithologist from Munich who's here on holiday and wants to know why you chased him through terminal F. He tells you you're the fourth reporter he's talked to today.
11:42 a.m. Dieter agrees to keep in touch and wishes you good luck in your job search. You say something clever about birds but it gets lost in translation.
12:05–2:05 p.m. Surf journalismjobs.com
2:20 p.m. Discover that the Russian Burger Kings are, disappointingly, nothing like the commercial, and no one laughed at your "Voppers junior" joke. Also your translator has quit.
3:15 p.m. See if Anna Chapman has tweeted anything recently.
3:30 p.m. Discuss with colleagues at other outlets the legitimate possibility that Snowden might be on that next flight to Ibiza.
3:45 p.m. I mean seriously, this duty free shop is huge.
3:47 p.m. Have second thoughts about filing another story about the Sheremetyevo airport, but you'd rather not get scooped on the ladybug backpack at the Duty Free shop. You send it off to your editor.
4:00 p.m. It's five o'clock somewhere.
4:01 p.m. Relocate to Shokoladnitsa, a popular cafe for stranded foreign correspondents, on the theory that Snowden will will leave his hiding spot to consume a $9 blini with red caviar, and $11 nonalcoholic mojito.
Searchers sift through the wreckate at the West Fertilizer Co. on April 18th.
In the two and a half months since an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer storage facility left 12 first responders dead and at least 200 people injured, two things have become clear. The disaster could have been avoided if the proper regulations had been in place and enforced—and state and federal agencies don't appear to be in a hurry to put those regulations in place or enforce them.
Texas, whose lax regulatory climate has come in for scrutiny in the aftermath of the West explosion, went into a special session of its state legislature on Monday to push through an omnibus abortion bill designed to regulate 37 abortion clinics out of existence. But the 2013 session will come to a close without any significant action to impose safeguards on the 74 facilities in the state that contain at least 10,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate.
Lawmakers in Austin have a handy excuse for punting on new fertilizer regulations: That would be intrusive. State Sen. Donna Campbell, the Republican who helped to shut down Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis' filibuster of the abortion bill on procedural grounds, told the New York Times that lawmakers should be wary of monitoring chemical plants more closely because there's "a point at which you can overregulate."
As the investigations into the West blast have shown, though, over-regulation is hardly a risk in Texas. The disaster was notable for just how little regulation there actually was and how little it was enforced. Since the April 17 disaster we've learned that:
The Texas Department of State Health Services, which tracks the storage of dangerous chemicals, says it is prohibited from regulating those chemicals and that any regulations must come from local officials. Except...
West is in McLennan County, which, like 70 percent of counties in the state, had been statutorily prohibited from adopting its own fire code until 2010, when it reached a high-enough population threshold. It has not adopted one since.
Texas is one of just four states without statewide standards for fire safety and storage at chemical facilities.
A statewide cap on property taxes means that even if they were allowed to have fire codes, most rural Texas fire departments are unable to afford the equipment needed to fight fires at the chemical facilities that are located disproportionately in rural counties.
The company didn't notify local planners of the presence of dangerous chemicals on site until 2012—at least six years after federal law would have required them to do so—and the town's volunteer firefighters were never briefed on how to handle a blaze at the facility. One firefighter tried to look up the information on his smartphone en route to the blaze but gave up.
West Fertilizer Co.'s "worst-case release scenario," according to documents provided to the Environmental Protection Agency, did not allow for the possibility of fire or explosions.
The site hadn't been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985, when, after finding five "serious violations," the company was fined $30. (That's $64.95 in today's dollars.) The 28-year lag between inspections isn't so bad, considering OSHA has the manpower to inspect each chemical facility in the US about once every 129 years.
West Fertilizer Co. was insured for just $1 million, the same amount of liability coverage the state requires of bounce house operators. However, this was $1 million more than is required by the state for chemical storage facilities.
The facility was storing an explosive product that doesn't actually have to be explosive.
It understated the amount of said explosive material it was keeping at the site by 56,000 pounds (or about 50 percent).
The company did not work with the Department of Homeland Security to develop security procedures as required by federal law, nor did DHS ever instruct it to do so. It did provide information on the site's explosive contents to the Texas Department of Health Services, but that agency did not pass that information along to DHS, nor was it required to.
West Fertilizer Co. had no security guards, alarm system, or perimeter fencing despite the fact that it was a storage facility for the primary ingredient of improvised explosive devices, and had been robbed 11 times (presumably by meth manufacturers) in 12 years.
In that same period, police responded to five different reports of ammonia leaks from the facility.
In the 11 years since the US Chemical Safety Board recommended the EPA regulate ammonium nitrate, the source of the West fire, the agency has made no move to do so. It is not included on the agency's list of hazardous chemicals, and by extension, it's not included on Texas' list either.
The facility was less than 3,000 feet away from two schools and a dense residential area and there are no federal or state laws on the books that would have prevented it from getting closer.
In other words, there's plenty of low-hanging fruit for Texas lawmakers to tackle to prevent future Wests. And yet, in the wake of the explosion, the state of Texas has taken exactly one concrete step to prevent future disasters from happening: It created a website that allows people to determine if there's a chemical plant in their neighborhood. That's information that should certainly be available to the public, but it shouldn't be confused with a step that's making those plants safer.
The Texas state fire marshal offered to issue voluntary best-practices recommendations for counties without fire codes, and to inspect chemical facilities—again, voluntarily—if the owners so wished, but the effect of that is hampered by the fact that rural counties, where most chemical facilities are located, are still prohibited under Texas law from enacting fire codes. A bill that would have ended that prohibition, which Gov. Rick Perry declined to throw his support behind, went nowhere this session. It is not being considered at the special session.
Legislators also talked about suggesting that facilities put up some signs to notify people about the presence of potentially hazardous chemicals nearby.
The only public statements on West from the state's top lawmakers in the last month came when the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned down Texas' request for $17 million in disaster assistance for the disaster it did nothing to prevent on the grounds that Texas has the money to pay for it. (And it does—Texas' rainy day fund is set to hit $8 billion by 2015.)
Maybe if pro-choice activists really want to stop Texas from regulating clinics they should just start calling them "fertilizer plants."
On Monday, the Texas legislature reconvened for a special session for the purposes of passing a strict anti-abortion law that would shut all but five clinics in the state and ban abortions after 20 weeks. Democrats successfully ran out the clock on the legislation in late June, an effort that was capped by state Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster, but this time around the bill will almost certainly pass. (Move to Texas!) Debate on the bill begins Tuesday, and it's likely to feature no shortage of overheated statements about Davis, her supporters, and abortion rights. If the last two months of rhetoric from GOP lawmakers and activists is any indication, we just have one bit of advice: Don't make "Holocaust" your drinking word. Here's just a small sampling of some of the eyebrow-raising remarks thrown around during the last round of legislative debate:
State Sen. Dan Patrick (R): Defending his party's chaotic effort to force through a vote as the session was ending, the founder of the state's tea party caucus told former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on his radio show that lawmakers had an obligation to ignore proper Senate rules and procedure if it meant saving fetuses: "I spoke to my colleagues and said, when Jesus criticized the Pharisees, he criticized them because their laws and their rules were more important than actually taking care of people. And in my view, stopping a debate to save thousands of lives, well, saving the thousands of lives is more important than our tradition of, well, you should never stop someone."
State Rep. Bill Zedler (R): On Twitter, referring to reproductive rights activists: "We had terrorists in the Texas State Senate opposing SB 5."
Gov. Rick Perry: Speaking to a national right-to-life conference on Friday, Perry lamented that Davis, who was raised by a single mother and had her first child at 19, hadn't drawn the proper lessons from her own life: "It is just unfortunate that she hasn't learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst: After initially telling reporters the bill had passed, Dewhurst later offered up an excuse for why it had failed: "An unruly mob, using Occupy Wall Street tactics, disrupted the Senate from protecting unborn babies." Following that, he threatened to arrest reporters for interfering with the Democratic process: "If I find, as I've been told, examples of the media waving and trying to inflame the crowd, incite them in the direction of a riot, I'm going to take action against them. We have reports that members of the media on the floor, on the floor of the Senate, were looking up at the people in the gallery, waving their hands, trying to motivate them to yell more. If I find examples of that, proof certain on our video. I'm going to address this firmly."
State Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R): Laubenberg, the bill's sponsor, suggested during the floor debate that there was no need to include an exception for victims of rape, because rape kits are themselves a form of abortion: "In the emergency room they have what's called rape kits, where a woman can get cleaned out. The woman had five months to make that decision, at this point we are looking at a baby that is very far along in its development."
State Rep. Jonathan Strickland (R): On June 23, as reproductive rights activists were protesting in the capitol, he tweeted:
Some days u r extra thankful we still have the right 2 protect ourselves & the 2nd amendment-Today is 1 of those days #txlege
State Rep. Wayne Christian (R): Stating the obvious in an interview with the Texas Tribune this spring: "Of course it's a war on birth control, abortion, everything—that's what family planning is supposed to be about."
State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R): Posted, and then deleted, this Facebook note: "This is a tough fight—the Gallery is full of orange shirts—very few blue—orange are the ones I call Pro-death. I am Pro-life—so they must be Pro-death. A human is a human prior to birth just as it is human after it is born. We have killed 50 million babies after Roe v Wade. Hitler killed 6 million people." So at least she's not a Holocaust denier.
Cathie Adams, Texas Eagle forum president: Continuing with the Hitler theme, Adams took to Twitter to vent about "feminazis" and "stinky stalking feminists" swarming the capitol.
Donny Ferguson, aide to US Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas): "Wendy Davis's pink shoes offer good protection from biohazards and contaminated sharps found in the unregulated abortion shops she defends."
And here's one bonus from the last time Texas lawmakers took on abortion access, chronicled by Texas Monthly's Mimi Swartz:
State Rep. Sid Miller (R): Responding to a question from a female lawmaker as to what his 2011 sonogram bill would actually entail: "Actually, I have never had a sonogram done on me, so I'm not familiar with the exact procedure—on the medical procedure, how that proceeds." Details!