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Howell Heflin
Howell Heflin.jpg
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1997
Preceded byJohn Sparkman
Succeeded byJeff Sessions
Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1992
Preceded byTed Stevens
Succeeded byTerry Sanford
24th Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court of Alabama
In office
January 19, 1971 – January 17, 1977
Preceded byJ. Ed Livingston
Succeeded byC. C. Torbert Jr.
Personal details
Howell Thomas Heflin

(1921-06-19)June 19, 1921
Poulan, Georgia, U.S.
DiedMarch 29, 2005(2005-03-29) (aged 83)
Sheffield, Alabama, U.S.
Resting placeGlendale Cemetery
Leighton, Alabama
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Ann Carmichael
Alma materBirmingham-Southern College (B.A.)
University of Alabama School of Law (LL.B.)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Marine Corps
Years of service1942–1946
Battles/warsWorld War II
Silver Star Medal ribbon.svg
Silver Star
Purple Heart ribbon.svg
Purple Heart (2)

Howell Thomas Heflin (June 19, 1921 – March 29, 2005) was an American lawyer and politician who served in the United States Senate representing Alabama from 1979 to 1997. He chose not to run for reelection in 1996.

Early life

Heflin was born on June 19, 1921, in Poulan, Georgia. He attended public school in Alabama, graduating from Colbert County High School in Leighton.[1] He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1942 from Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham.[2] There was a tradition of politics in his family: he was a nephew of James Thomas Heflin, a prominent white supremacist politician and U.S. Senator, and great-nephew of Robert Stell Heflin, a U.S. Representative.

During World War II, from 1942 to 1946, Heflin served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.[3] He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in combat and received two Purple Heart medals,[4] having seen action on Bougainville and Guam.

After World War II, Heflin attended the University of Alabama School of Law, from which he graduated in 1948. For nearly two decades, he served as a law professor, while concurrently practicing law in Tuscumbia, Alabama.[4]

Political career

Heflin greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1981
Heflin greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1981

In 1970, Heflin was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, serving from 1971 to 1977.[5]

In 1978, Heflin was elected to the United States Senate to succeed fellow Democrat John Sparkman, who had been Adlai E. Stevenson's running mate in the 1952 presidential election. Heflin won his party's nomination by defeating U.S. Representative Walter Flowers of Tuscaloosa, a longtime George C. Wallace ally. The 1966 Republican gubernatorial nominee, former U.S. Representative James D. Martin of Gadsden, announced that he would challenge Heflin. But Martin switched to a second Senate race for a two-year term created by the sudden death of Senator James B. Allen, leaving Heflin without a Republican opponent.

In March 1981, President Reagan was shot during an assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., Hinckley being brought to trial fourteen months afterward. Heflin espoused the view that the time between the incident and the trial was part of the need for an overhauling of the criminal justice system "so it can more efficiently and effectively deal with the rising epidemic of violent crime in this nation" and noted the shootings of Pope John Paul II and President of Egypt Anwar Sadat as incidents that had happened after the Reagan shooting yet had already seen the assailants be convicted and either jailed or executed. Heflin stated that the delays in bringing defendants to trial formed "contempt for the system" in addition to denouncing the delays as part of the problem, calling for the Senate to form a "Crime Caucus" as part of an attempt to "put aside petty partisan politics and unite in an effort to wage a successful war on crime."[6]

In July 1981, Heflin announced he would introduce legislation calling for creation of a national court of appeals, and that such legislation would relieve the Supreme Court of some of its present burdens while increasing the national appellate capacity. The legislation was intended to also initiate a long-range study of the federal court system and call for major reforms in the American judiciary. Heflin noted that only 289 of the 4,242 petitions for hearings submitted to the Supreme Court in the previous year were granted and that a national appeals court would resolve feuds in the federal circuit courts.[7]

In 1984, Heflin won a second Senate term, handily defeating Republican former U.S. Representative Albert L. Smith Jr. of Birmingham, who had hoped to win by running on the reelection coattails of U.S. President Ronald W. Reagan. Heflin was reelected to a third term in 1990, defeating State Senator William J. Cabaniss, who later served as United States Ambassador to the Czech Republic under George W. Bush. Heflin did not run for reelection in 1996, and was succeeded by Republican Jeff Sessions.

Heflin became chairman of the Select Committee on Ethics. While on the Ethics Committee, he led the prosecution against fellow Democratic senator Howard Cannon of Nevada for violations of Senate rules.

As a conservative Democrat, he strongly opposed abortion rights and gun control. Heflin supported school prayer in public schools and opposed laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. He supported the Gulf War of 1991 and opposed cuts in defense spending. With Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, Heflin was one of only two Democrats in the Senate to vote against the Family and Medical Leave Act. He occasionally voted with Republicans on taxes.

On other economic issues he was more allied with his party's populist wing. He voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and attempts to weaken enforcement of consumer protection measures. He strongly supported affirmative action laws. He voted against confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, citing Thomas's lack of experience.

In 1993 Heflin gave a memorable speech on the Senate floor in support of Senator Carol Moseley Braun's successful effort to deny renewal of a Confederate Flag design patent for the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Heflin spoke of his pride and love for his Confederate ancestors, his respect for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and his conflict in breaking with them over this issue. But, he said,

we live in a nation that daily is trying to heal the scars that have occurred in the past. We're trying to heal problems that still show negative and ugly aspects in our world that we live in today, and perhaps racism is one of the great scars and one of the most serious illnesses that we suffer from still today.[8]

Heflin lived at his longtime residence in Tuscumbia until his death on March 29, 2005, of a heart attack.[2] He was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann, his son H. Thomas Jr., known as Tom, and two grandchildren.[9]

Heflin was the last Democrat to serve as a senator from Alabama until the swearing in of Doug Jones (winner of the December 2017 special election) on January 3, 2018, 21 years to the day after Heflin left the seat.[a] Heflin had been a mentor to Jones, who worked for him as a senatorial aide.[10][11]


Memorial to Howell Heflin at the war memorial near the Colbert County Courthouse, Colbert County, Alabama
Memorial to Howell Heflin at the war memorial near the Colbert County Courthouse, Colbert County, Alabama

The University of Alabama School of Law has honored Heflin with the "Howell Heflin Conference Room" in the Bounds Law Library. Tuscumbia named a street "Howell Heflin Lane" in his honor. The Howell Heflin Lock and Dam in Alabama is named in his honor. The Howell T. Heflin Seminar room in the Birmingham-Southern College Library is also named in his honor.

The New York Times characterized him as the "conscience of the Senate."[3]

See also


  1. ^ "Howell Heflin". NNDB. Soylent Communications. Retrieved October 23, 2008.
  2. ^ a b "Heflin, Howell Thomas, (1921–2005)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved April 22, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Pear, Robert (March 30, 2005). "Howell Heflin, Former Alabama Senator, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2008.
  4. ^ a b "Howell T. Heflin". Encyclopedia of Alabama. September 14, 2008. Retrieved October 23, 2008.
  5. ^ Judicial History Archived 2012-03-14 at the Wayback Machine (PDF)
  6. ^ "Sen. Howell Heflin, former chief justice of the Alabama..." UPI. May 12, 1982.
  7. ^ "Sen. Howell Heflin, D-Ala., said Wednesday he will introduce..." UPI. July 29, 1981.
  8. ^ "Sen. Howell Heflin (D-AL) on Confederate Family Roots & Insignia". C-SPAN.
  9. ^ Pear, Robert (March 30, 2005). "Howell Heflin, Former Alabama Senator, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Who is Doug Jones, Alabama's new U.S. senator?". PBS. December 12, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2017.
  11. ^ "Trump will not campaign for Roy Moore in Alabama Senate race". November 27, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2017.


  1. ^ Prior to 2017, Richard Shelby was the last Alabama Democrat elected to the Senate, in 1992, but he became a Republican in 1994.

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
John Sparkman
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Alabama
(Class 3)

1978, 1984, 1990
Succeeded by
Roger Bedford Jr.
Legal offices
Preceded by
J. Ed Livingston
Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court
Succeeded by
C. C. Torbert Jr.
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
John J. Sparkman
United States Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
Served alongside: Donald W. Stewart, Jeremiah Denton, Richard Shelby
Succeeded by
Jeff Sessions
Preceded by
Warren Rudman
Chair of the Senate Ethics Committee
Succeeded by
Terry Sanford
This page was last edited on 10 October 2020, at 11:35
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