Howell Heflin

Howell Heflin
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.
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.)
Religion Methodist
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
Purple Heart (2)
Memorial to Howell Heflin at the war memorial near the Colbert County Courthouse, Colbert County, Alabama

Howell Thomas Heflin (June 19, 1921 – March 29, 2005) was an American politician who served in the United States Senate, representing Alabama, from 1979 to 1997. He was a member of the Democratic Party.


Howell Heflin was born on June 19, 1921 in Poulan, Georgia. He attended public school in Alabama, having graduated from Colbert County High School in Leighton.[1] He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1942 from Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham. He was also the nephew of prominent white supremacist politician and U.S. Senator James Thomas Heflin and greatnephew of U.S. Representative Robert Stell Heflin.

During World War II, from 1942 to 1946, he served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.[2] He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in combat and recipient of two Purple Heart medals,[3] having seen action on Bougainville and Guam.

After World War II, he attended the University of Alabama School of Law, from which he graduated in 1948. Prior to his election to the Alabama Supreme Court, he served as a law professor, while concurrently practicing law in Tuscumbia, Alabama.[3]

Political career

In 1970, Heflin was elected to the post of Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, serving from 1971 to 1977.[4]

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 to succeed Sparkman 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 left Heflin without Republican opposition in 1978.

In 1984, Heflin won his second Senate term by handily defeating Republican former U.S. Representative Albert Lee Smith Jr., of Birmingham, who had hoped to win by running on the 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 State Attorney General 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.

He strongly opposed legal abortion and all gun control laws. Heflin supported 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, he 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 in sync 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.

During his tenure, Heflin was considered to have bipartisan support if he were nominated by President Reagan for a vacancy on the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Heflin did not wish to serve on the highest court in the United States.

Senator Heflin lived at his long-time residence in Tuscumbia until his death on March 29, 2005 of a heart attack.[5] He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann, his son H. Thomas Jr., known as Tom, and two grandchildren.[6] Heflin, as of November 2016, is the last Democrat to serve as Senator of Alabama.


The University of Alabama School of Law has honored Heflin with the "Howell Heflin Conference Room" in the Bounds Law Library. There is a street named "Howell Heflin Lane" in Tuscumbia. 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."[2]

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


  1. "Howell Heflin". NNDB. Soylent Communications. Retrieved October 23, 2008.
  2. 1 2 Pear, Robert (March 30, 2005). "Howell Heflin, Former Alabama Senator, Dies at 83". New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2008.
  3. 1 2 "Howell T. Heflin". Encyclopedia of Alabama. September 14, 2008. Retrieved October 23, 2008.
  4. Judicial History (PDF)
  5. {{cite web Howell Heflin's Fraternity at Birmingham-Southern COllege was Lambda Chi Alpha (formerly Theta Kappa Nu). Sigma Chi did not have a Chapter at Birmingham-Southern College until 1993 . |accessdate=April 22, 2007|url=|title=Heflin, Howell Thomas, (1921 - 2005)|work=Biographical Directory of the United States Congress}}
  6. Pear, Robert (March 30, 2005). "Howell Heflin, Former Alabama Senator, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
Legal offices
Preceded by
J. Ed Livingston
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama
Succeeded by
C. C. Torbert Jr.
United States Senate
Preceded by
John J. Sparkman
United States Senator (Class 2) from Alabama
Served alongside: Donald W. Stewart, Jeremiah Denton and Richard Shelby
Succeeded by
Jeff Sessions
Political offices
Preceded by
Ted Stevens
Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee
Succeeded by
Terry Sanford
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