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About Howell Thomas Heflin
Howell Thomas Heflin (June 19, 1921 – March 29, 2005) was a United States Senator from Tuscumbia, Alabama, and a member of the Democratic Party.
Howell Heflin, the nephew of prominent white supremacist politician James Thomas Heflin and greatnephew of Alabama congressman Robert Stell Heflin, was born on June 19, 1921 in Poulan, Georgia. He attended public school in Alabama graduating from Colbert County High School in Leighton, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1942 from Birmingham-Southern College.
During World War II, from 1942 to 1946, he served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in combat and recipient of two Purple Heart medals, seeing action on Bougainville and Guam.
After World War II, he attended Law School at the University of Alabama, graduating in 1948, after which he became a law professor.
From 1971 to 1977 became the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
In 1978, Heflin was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate to succeed John Sparkman. He remained in the Senate, where he rose to become Chairman of the Select Committee on Ethics, until January 3, 1997. While on the Ethics Committee, he led the prosecution against fellow Senator Howard Cannon (D-NV) for violations of Senate rules.
His stances on cultural issues most often reflected the region he was from. He strongly opposed legal abortion and all gun control laws. Heflin supported prayer in public schools and opposed extending federal laws against discrimination to lesbians and gays. He voted in favor of the Gulf War and against limiting spending on defense. 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 Supreme Court, complaining of his lack of experience and interest.
During his tenure, Heflin was considered to have bipartisan support if he were nominated for a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan. Nevertheless, Heflin did not wish to serve on the highest court in the United States.
On July 19, 1994, Senator Heflin was dining in the Capitol with some Alabama reporters, and felt like he had to sneeze. The Senator reached into his pocket and pulled out a bit of fabric and began to wipe his nose with a pair of ladies underwear. His office later released the following press release: [This morning] "I mistakenly picked up a pair of my wife's white panties and put them in my pocket while I was rushing out the door to go to work. Rather than take a chance on being embarrassed again, I'm going to start buying colored handkerchiefs."
Upon seeing photos in the National Enquirer showing Senator Ted Kennedy copulating with an unknown woman on the deck of Kennedy's boat, he was said to have commented, "Well, I declare. I do believe the Senator from Massachusetts has changed his position on offshore drillin'!"
Senator Heflin lived at his long-time home of Tuscumbia, Alabama until his death on March 29, 2005 of a heart attack.
The University of Alabama School of Law has honored Heflin with the "Howell Heflin Conference Room" in the Bounds Law Library. There is also a street named "Howell Heflin Lane" in Tuscumbia, Alabama. The Howell Heflin Lock and Dam in Alabama is named in honor of Senator Heflin. The Howell T. Heflin Seminar room in the Library of Birmingham-Southern College is named in his honor.
Heflin was portrayed by the late Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live (Season 17).