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John Ben Shepperd: Texas Association of Public Accountants

June 15, 1956

Texas Association of Public Accountants (Tyler, Texas)

I want to talk to you about one of the most serious problems that has ever faced the people of Texas—or of this country. Last May 21 the United States Supreme Court annihilated the “right-to-work” laws of 18 states, including Texas, at least in so far as they apply to one major industry—railroads. This means that free, independent Texans can be forced to join a labor union against their will in order to hold their jobs and feed their families.

On the previous April 2 the Supreme Court struck down the subversive activity laws of 42 states and two territories by saying that the Federal Government had exclusive right to protect itself from sedition, and that therefore the States had no such right—not even to protect themselves.

Before that, the Court ruled that independent producers of natural gas were subject to federal regulation and price-fixing, in spite of their specific exemption under federal law.

And before that the states were pushed out of the labor field, deprived of major sources of tax revenues, saw the doctrine of paramount rights creep inland from the Tidelands and navigable waters to include every little trickling creek on which the Federal Government owns a little frontage and suffered setbacks in their powers to regulate their own internal affairs in dozens of other fields. Supreme Court decisions and federal bureau edicts, like hammer blows on the anvil of time, are forging a future for Americans in which the states are to have no part. State lines are being erased. State laws are being nullified. State governments are being bound and gagged, and the people are being led into captivity to a Federal Government that does not wish to share dual sovereignty with the states that created it. The pattern could not be clearer if there were a pre-conceived plan at the bottom of it.

This is being done mainly through the “Pips” doctrine of the Supreme Court—P-I-P-S, pre-emption, interpretation, paramount rights and supersession.

It was characteristic of this trend that on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court decreed that the states may not have laws which segregate the races in the public schools.

It is unfortunate that this appalling departure from the most elementary Constitutional principles and basic legal concepts occurred in a field where the people of this country are divided on moral grounds. There are good people on both sides of the segregation question, acting in good conscience.

But the Supreme Court decree was of such import, and the reaction to it so heated, that the people were impelled to take sides on the end result before it was realized by what dubious means the integration order was brought about. The people of the United States have been divided on many things, but there has been no division in the belief that the end never justifies the means.

The means used to compel the integration was simple legislation by the Court—rewriting the Constitution, in order to invade an area of law clearly reserved to the states in the federal compact, and to effect a change that was in no sense legally obtainable except by Constitutional amendment.

At this point there are a couple of things we ought to bear in mind. If the Court can legislate in this area, it can legislate in any area. The Constitution becomes piece of paper, and Congress becomes a body of impotent figureheads. Minority groups are now looking to the courts to gain their ends, instead of looking to the legislative bodies established for that purpose. Utilitarianism is being substituted for constitutional law, with the philosophy “If the method works, use it. The law is unimportant.”

Putting aside all bias and all moral issues, is this kind of decision good for the Country? Where will it end?

But segregation is only one spoke in the wheel. This isn’t just a southern issue. The whole, vast, many-sided trend has caused even the northern and eastern states to realize that it isn’t just the Mason-Dixon Line that is being erased, but all the state lines as well.

There are four battle fronts in this fight. The first is the courtroom. We are going to continue fighting, case by case, from the lowest federal court to the highest. We will not allow a hungry bureaucracy to reduce state capitals and courthouses to the role of museums full of quaint relics of our past glory, or to wipe out even the memory of our dead freedom by making it appear that our fore-fathers intended these things to happen when they wrote the Constitution.

The second front is Congress, which has the power and responsibility to determine the policies of federal agencies and what matters the Supreme Court can consider. It is the duty of the Senate to see that the men appointed to the federal bench are trained jurists who know how to follow legal precedent instead of their political party. There are now at least a hundred bills pending in Congress to limit the powers of the Federal Government or the Court, to require justices to have five years’ prior experience, to limit the matters subject to the Court’s jurisdiction, to prescribe rules by which the Court shall interpret the Constitution, and by many other means to safeguard the Constitution in spirit as well as in letter.

The third front is the state and local governments themselves. The people demand governmental efficiency in return for their tax dollars, and they will get it if they have to go to the Federal Government or the U.S. Supreme Court to do so. Our state government is a hodge-podge of almost 200 conflicting and overlapping boards and agencies. Thirty-eight of them are headless bodies for which the responsibility is borne by a total of half a dozen ex-officio board members having no administrative authority. The Attorney General serves on 25 in addition to his regular job.

State and local government is costing the people of Texas 4 billion, 447 million dollars a year. Is it worth it? The federal centralizers think we don’t need a state and local level. What do you think?

The fourth and ultimate battleground in the fight for the Constitution is the people. We need more responsible businessmen, professional men, and especially accountants, taking part in local and state government and executing policies consistent with our basic beliefs—efficiency, economy and integrity. We need men in public office who won’t send for the Federal Government every time they have a problem. We need men who won’t get into public office through pull and then stop pulling . . . who won’t sacrifice a dot or a dash to the Constitution to get a dollar sign on the ledger, or submerge a principle to win a point . . . who won’t let Constitutional government die of cold feet because they were afraid to get into hot water . . . and who are never so concerned with the left and the right that they get it mixed up with the above and below.

The greatest fault of the American people is our materialism and lack of real concern for good government. Half of us are trying to buy all the good things of life with money, and the other half is trying to vote them into existence.

But who can open up a safe deposit box and file away a title to a Texas sunset? Who can lay gold on the counter and buy the look of trust and innocence in a child’s eyes? Can anybody dig into his pocketbook and buy a good conscience or a lifetime of proud accomplishment? No man can trade hard cash for the companionship of a true friend, or purchase at any price the love and devotion of a good woman.

And all the money in all the treasuries of the world is not worth the south of a mother’s lullaby . . . or the laughter of a free man.

Freedom is old, not young, yet it is born anew in the cry of a free man’s son;

It is not a living thing, yet it dies if we do not love it;

It is not weak, yet it must be defended;

It is light, but it weighs heavy on him who is without it;

It is without price, yet it dearly costs the one who sells it;

It is not small, but great; yet once lost, it is never found again.

Please note: The views expressed in these speeches were those of John Ben Shepperd, and do not necessarily represent the views of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute or the University of Texas Permian Basin.