The final text does not mention disease, but the text of the amendment has not been an impediment to expansive (albeit controversial) interpretations in other regards. In 1965, the Court, in Griswold v. Connecticut, cited the amendment to find an implied constitutional right to privacy, and similar reasoning could be used again. Yet if the Third Amendment may have something to do with a right to be free from infection, what exactly is that right? Construed most narrowly, the amendment might merely imply a right to be free from having a specific category of people who might carry diseases forcibly pushed into one’s house without consent. But broader interpretations are possible. The amendment could be interpreted to include other governmental actors, and house could be understood expansively. The broadest interpretation might recognize a general right to be free from being forced to come into close contact with diseases. Since the Founders’ world looked tremendously different from our world today, the question is where to draw the line: how much to limit the amendment to a narrow interpretation of its text and how much to prioritize the broader rationales at its foundation.
A broad interpretation presents substantial dangers and limitations. The Supreme Court hasn’t yet decided whether the amendment applies to state and local governments. Recognition of a fundamental right to be free from forced close contact with disease vectors might shift discretion on important public-health issues from the hands of lawmakers and administrators to judges, who may be less democratically accountable or qualified to make these decisions. Perhaps too murky and open-ended to put into practice, such a right might also create a slippery slope for recognizing other “rights.” And whereas the Court in Griswold relied on multiple constitutional provisions to find an implied right to privacy, the Third Amendment on its own may not be enough to establish a right to be free from infection.
Still, even if no such right exists in an immediately useful form, the amendment’s history offers vital lessons. It reveals that disease prevention was actually built into the Constitution, furnishing judges and lawmakers today with a constitutional anchor to weigh when balancing competing societal interests.