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Howell Thomas Heflin (June 19, 1921 – March 29, 2005) was an American lawyer and politician who served in the United States Senate, representing Alabama (1979–97). He chose not to run for re-election in 1996.

Howell Heflin
Howell Heflin.jpg
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by John Sparkman
Succeeded by Jeff Sessions
Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1992
Preceded by Ted Stevens
Succeeded by Terry Sanford
24th Chief Justice of the
Supreme Court of Alabama
In office
January 19, 1971 – January 17, 1977
Preceded by J. Ed Livingston
Succeeded by C. C. Torbert Jr.
Personal details
Born Howell Thomas Heflin
(1921-06-19)June 19, 1921
Poulan, Georgia, U.S.
Died March 29, 2005(2005-03-29) (aged 83)
Sheffield, Alabama, U.S.
Resting place Glendale Cemetery
Leighton, Alabama
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Ann Carmichael
Alma mater Birmingham-Southern College (B.A.)
University of Alabama School of Law (LL.B.)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1942–1946
Rank Major
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Silver Star Medal ribbon.svg Silver Star
Purple Heart ribbon.svg Purple Heart (2)


Early lifeEdit

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 careerEdit

Heflin greeting President Ronald Reagan in 1981

In 1970, Heflin was elected to the post of 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 1952, when slated against Richard Nixon, Dwight D. Eisenhower's running-mate, on the Republican ticket. Heflin won his party's nomination by defeating U.S. Representative Walter Flowers of Tuscaloosa, a long-time George C. Wallace ally. The 1966 Republican gubernatorial nominee, former U.S. Representative James D. Martin of Gadsden, announced that he would challenge Heflin. In 1962, Martin had waged a strong but losing Republican campaign against then U.S. Senator J. Lister Hill of Montgomery. However, Martin switched to a second Senate race for a two-year term created by the sudden death of Senator James B. Allen. The change in races gave Heflin an election in 1978 with no Republican opposition.

In 1984, Heflin won his second Senate term by handily defeating Republican former U.S. Representative Albert L. Smith Jr., of Birmingham, who had hoped to win by running on the re-election 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 all gun control laws. Heflin supported school prayer in public schools and opposed extending federal laws against discrimination to homosexuals. He supported the Gulf War of 1991 and opposed cuts in defense spending. With Fritz Hollings from 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 the populist wing of his party. 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 memorably voted against the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, having complained of the nominee'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.[citation needed]

Senator Heflin lived at his long-time residence in Tuscumbia until his death on March 29, 2005 of a heart attack.[2] He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann, his son H. Thomas Jr., known as Tom, and two grandchildren.[6]

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, twenty-one 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.[7][8]


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]

In popular cultureEdit

Heflin was portrayed by Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live (Season 17).

See alsoEdit


  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. ^ Pear, Robert (March 30, 2005). "Howell Heflin, Former Alabama Senator, Dies at 83". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ "Who is Doug Jones, Alabama's new U.S. senator?". PBS. December 12, 2017. Retrieved December 12, 2017. 
  8. ^ "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 linksEdit

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