MARTIN, Tenn. – Houston Gordon, managing member of the Gordon Shaw Law Group in Covington, spoke Sept. 17 at the University of Tennessee at Martin in observation of Constitution Day. Gordon is a 1968 UT Martin graduate and has been a practicing trial lawyer for almost 50 years with experience in both civilian and military cases.
Gordon addressed a crowd of UT Martin students and faculty members from the political science, pre-law and history programs, among others, and discussed the Bill of Rights and its importance for citizens today.
“Before (the Constitution) was approved, some of the framers had the foresight to say, ‘We want to place amendments to the Constitution because the government has all of this power. … We need to be able to protect individual people.’ And that’s where the Bill of Rights came from,” he said. “The Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of speech; the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion. The Bill of Rights guarantees the right to bear arms, guarantees due process of law, guarantees indictment by a grand jury if you’re tried for a criminal charge. It guarantees in two separate places the right to a trial by jury.… Those individual liberties are as important to you, today, as they were when they were penned. … I hope that at least one or two or three or more of you will take an interest in your rights, your individual liberties.”
Gordon listed various legal decisions and political actions that, in his opinion, have eroded the Bill of Rights over the past decade and urged audience members to pay attention to the choices their elected officials make regarding civil liberties and personal freedoms.
“I urge you to learn about your government, learn about your state, learn about how things work in your state and in your government because it affects you every single day whether you realize it or not. … I beg you to pay attention, get involved,” he said.
He also encouraged audience members to surround themselves with competing viewpoints through news media and other sources and seek to find the balance among differing ideas.
“I encourage you to read all of them (competing newspapers). … When you have competing ideas, then somewhere in that you can probably figure out the truth,” he said. Gordon quoted President Ronald Reagan as saying, “Trust, but verify.”
“Trust what you hear, and then check it out, because it’s your life and your rights that are at stake,” he added.
Gordon also quoted the inscription along the top of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., which has helped him through many difficult cases in his career. “Written around the top (of the memorial) are these words, ‘I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility toward any form of tyranny over the minds of men.’ Tyranny over our minds, whether it comes from the media or from the White House or from press conferences, is still tyranny,” he said. “Don’t let anybody take your minds captive. If I have a definition of freedom and liberty, then that’s it.”
Gordon graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1970 and joined the United States Army Judge Advocate General Corps. His first major case was defending Lt. William Calley on appeal, the only soldier convicted of war crimes committed during the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. Gordon was 24 years old at the time.