Jerry Summers: Howell Heflin – Justice And Senator

Politics was a tradition of the name Heflin in Alabama. Howell Heflin was a nephew of James Thomas Heflin, a well-known white racist in the state and also served as a U.S. Senator. He was also the great-nephew of Robert Stell Heflin, who served in the House of Representatives of Congress. Howell Heflin was born on June 19, 1921 in Poulan Worth County, Georgia. He attended the Alabama public schools and graduated from Birmingham Southern College in 1942.

During World War II, he served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946 and distinguished himself as a soldier in the invasions of Bougainville and Guam, winning the Silver Star Medal and two Purple Hearts for his wounding. After returning from military service, he attended law school at the University of Alabama in 1948. He founded a law firm in Tuscumbia, Alabama and served as a law professor in Tuscaloosa for 20 years.

Unlike many politicians, Heflin was an active and accomplished litigator. In this role, he was highly valued by his fellow lawyers and selected for membership of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, the American College of Trial Lawyers, and the International Society of Barristers for his legal talent and ethics. In 1971 he was elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and served until 1977. During that tenure, he is credited with reforming the outdated Alabama judicial system by improving efficiency and enacting the 1973 Judicial Article by the Alabama Legislature. This was a major overhaul of the state’s outdated 1901 constitution.

When he retired from court in 1977, the state court system was seen as a national model. In 1978 he was elected to the United States Senate. He became a powerful committee chairman as well as a strong advocate of southern agriculture, judicial reform, and the economic development of the state of Alabama.

He succeeded John Sparkman, who had been Adlai E. Stevenson’s runner-up in the presidential race in 1952. He was the last popular Alabama Democrat, although his colleague Richard Shelby had been elected Democrat but later joined the Republican Party.

During his tenure in the Senate in March 1981, Heflin was seriously affected by the shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley and the fact that his case was not brought to trial until 14 months after the date of the incident. He advocated the need to overhaul the criminal system to deal with what he described as the “growing epidemic of violent crime in the nation.” He also advocated putting aside petty partisan policies and uniting both parties to wage a successful war on crime.

Heflin was a conservative Democrat who strongly opposed gun control and abortion, supported prayer in schools, and opposed laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. A World War II military veteran, he supported the 1991 Gulf War and opposed cuts to military spending and occasionally voted with the Republicans in the Senate on tax reform.

He and his colleague Senator Fritz Hollins of South Carolina were the only Democrats who voted against the Family and Medical Leave Act. In 1984 and 1990 he successfully won the second and third terms in the Senate, but decided in 1996 not to seek a fourth term.

Although his family’s political background was segregated, he made a memorable speech in 1993 in support of efforts to deny the renewal of a Confederate flag design for the United Daughters of the Confederation, despite his love and pride for his Confederate ancestors.

Without a doubt, his most embarrassing moment was in 1994 when he was dining with a group of reporters in the Senate cafeteria. He reached into his pocket for a handkerchief and pulled out a pair of women’s panties. This was followed by this short press release: “I accidentally took off my wife’s white panties and tucked them in my pocket as I hurried out the door to go to work. Instead of taking the risk of being embarrassed again, I’ll start buying colored handkerchiefs. “

Heflin died of a heart attack in his hometown of Tuscumbia on March 29, 2005, but not before he anonymously donated $ 1 million to the University of Alabama Law School for scholarships for deserving young people. Numerous honors and public recognitions have been made on his behalf, and the New York Times referred to Heflin as “the Senate’s conscience.”

Senator Heflin is often remembered today as a model of civil service for Alabama, a man who achieved great power and used that power for the common good.

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Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information on any of Mr. Summers’ articles, or if you have any suggestions or ideas about a future historical piece of the Chattanooga area, please contact Mr. Summers at [email protected])

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