Richard Shelby

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Richard Shelby

Richard Craig Shelby (born May 6, 1934 in Birmingham) is the senior U.S. Senator from Alabama, elected to a 6th six-year term in 2016, and the 7th most senior member of the United States Senate. Originally elected to the Senate as a Democrat, Shelby switched to the Republican Party in 1994 when it gained the majority in Congress. He serves as the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Shelby is the son of Alice L. Skinner and Ozie Houston Shelby of Birmingham. He graduated from Hueytown High School in 1953. He then attended the University of Alabama, graduating in 1957 and from its law school 1963, respectively.

After graduating, Shelby practiced law in Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, from 1963 to 1978. He is a member of the American Bar Association and Alabama Bar Association, as well as the American Judicature Society, Alabama Law Institute, Delta Chi Fraternity, and Phi Alpha Delta legal fraternity.

He entered politics while serving as city prosecutor from 1963 to 1971. From 1966 to 1970, he was a U.S. Magistrate for the Northern District of Alabama; from 1969 to 1971, Shelby was a Special Assistant State Attorney General.

Shelby began his legislative career as a member of the Alabama Senate in 1970, serving until 1978, when he was elected to the House of Representatives from the 7th Congressional District of Alabama. He was reelected three times.

U.S. House of Representatives

Election results

1978 general election

1980 general election

1982 general election

  • 7th District of Alabama, U.S. House of Representatives
    • Richard Shelby (Democrat, incumbent), 124,070 votes (97%)
    • James Jones (Libertarian), 4,058 votes (3%)
    • Write-in candidates, 11 votes (0%)

1984 general election

U.S. Senate

Election results




  • 1998 general election, United States Senate
    • Richard Shelby (Republican, incumbent), 817,973 votes (63%)
    • Clayton Suddith (Democrat), 474,568 votes (37%)
    • Write-in candidates, 864 votes (0%)


  • 2004 general election, United States Senate
    • Richard Shelby (Republican, incumbent), 1,242,200 votes (68%)
    • Wayne Sowell (Democrat), 595,018 votes (32%)
    • Write-in candidates, 1,848 votes (0%)


  • 2010 general election, United States Senate
    • Richard Shelby (Republican, incumbent), 968,181 votes (65%)
    • William G. Barnes (Democrat), 515,619 votes (35%)
    • Write-in candidates, 1,699 votes (0%)


  • 2016 general election, United States Senate
    • Richard Shelby (Republican, incumbent), 1,335,104 votes (64%)
    • Ron Crumpton (Democrat), 748,709 votes (36%)
    • Write-in candidates, 3,631 votes (0%)

Senate career

In 1986, he won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat held by Republican Jeremiah Denton, the first Republican elected to the Senate from Alabama since Reconstruction. He won a very close race as the Democrats regained control of the Senate. He was easily re-elected in 1992 even as Bill Clinton lost Alabama's electoral votes.

Shelby spent most of his first 15 years in Washington as one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress. In the House, he was a member of the boll weevils, a group of moderate to conservative leaning Democrats who often worked with Republican President Ronald Reagan on defense issues.

Shelby publicly feuded with Bill Clinton during the first half of his second term. At a meeting with Vice President Al Gore, he turned to 19 Alabama TV cameras and denounced the Clinton program as "high on taxes, low on spending cuts". Consequently, it was announced that a multi-million dollar space facility was not going to be built in Alabama but rather Texas. However, as Clinton's approval ratings began to decline, Shelby's popularity ratings became some of the highest in the state. He voted with Senate Republicans against the administration on almost every partisan issue. On November 9, 1994, Shelby switched his party affiliation to Republican one day after the Republicans won control of both houses in the midterm elections, giving the Republicans a 53-47 majority in the Senate. He won his first full term as a Republican in 1998 by a large margin, and faced no significant opposition in 2004.

Shelby served on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence from 1995 to 2003, stepping down because of a Senate rule limiting committee terms to eight years. Shelby took an adversarial stance towards the intelligence community during both Clinton and Bush administrations. He helped sink Anthony Lake's nomination as CIA director in 1997 and promised to investigate the use of American-made satellites by the Chinese to gather intelligence. He was also highly critical of CIA Director George Tenet in the aftermath of September 11. When Tenet resigned in July 2004, Shelby commented "This is not a surprise to me at all. What was a surprise was that he held onto the job as long as he did".

From 2003 until 2007, he chaired the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and has remained a top member of the committee. In addition to his legislative influence, numerous former staff members have been appointed to administrative positions and/or represented financial institutions in regulatory matters. The scope of his office's influence in bank regulations has given rise to the term "Shelby mafia". In particular the merger of Sun Trust Bank and BB&T bank benefited from the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act of 2018. SunTrust head lobbyist Mark Oesterle and FDIC chair Jelena McWilliams formerly served on Shelby's staff.

He is also a member of the Appropriations Committee (where he chaired its subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science) and Special Committee on Aging. He lost his chairmanships in 2007 when Democrats regained control of the Senate.

Shelby is currently co-chair of the Congressional Privacy Caucus and Zero Capital Gains Tax Caucus. He is also the Senate co-chair of the National Security Caucus. In addition, he is a member of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Senate Centrist Coalition. In the Dallas–Fort Worth area, Shelby is known for the Shelby Amendment, a law he sponsored that eased some of the restrictions placed on Dallas' secondary airport by the contentious Wright Amendment.

Shelby remains relatively popular in Alabama. A December 2007 poll showed a 54% approval rating, with 36% disapproving. He was awarded a sixth term in the 2016 election, defeating Democratic challenger Ron Crumpton by a 74%-26% margin.

In February 2021 Shelby announced that he would not seek a seventh term in the 2022 election. He donated his official papers to the University of Alabama to be organized and archived for research.

Chiefs of staff

Political views

Shelby opposes gun control and abortion, and supports the Federal Marriage Amendment. He has also been a staunch advocate of a flat tax and of the Bush Administration's tax cuts. He cites disagreements with the Democrats on tax policy as one of the main reasons he became a Republican; he feels the Democrats are too willing to enact tax increases. Among the bills sponsored by Shelby over the years have been bills to make English the sole language of the federal government, to limit federal government spending by statute, and to provide a moratorium on certain forms of immigration.

However, he is considered to be much more independent-minded than his Senate colleague, Jeff Sessions. For instance, shortly after becoming a Republican he voted against two major tort reform bills, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and the Common Sense Product Liability and Legal Reform Act. Both bills were vetoed by President Clinton, though the first bill was successfully passed over his veto. Shelby also voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement and opposes most free trade agreements, most recently the Central America Free Trade Agreement. He also opposed the confirmation of Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court in 1987 (when Shelby was still a Democrat). However, he supported the confirmation of Samuel Alito almost two decades later.

Environmental Record

In 2005, Richard Shelby received a 0 percent on the Republicans for Environmental Protection's ("REP") environmental scorecard. He voted in a manner inconsistent with what the REP considers "pro-environment" on all 15 issues considered environmentally critical by the REP. Issues in which Senator Shelby voted "anti-environment" were: all amendments to the Energy Policy Act proposed in 2005, the issue of authorizing drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, and fuel economy standards for vehicles.

Senator Shelby received a 5 percent from the League of Conservation Voters ("LCV") scorecard for his "pro-environment" vote on the issue of the Central America Free Trade Agreement. The "CAFTA" is criticized by the LCV for it's low environmental standards involving trade with Central American countries. This "pro-environment" vote, however, was outweighed by his supposed "anti-environment" votes on the energy conference report, renewable energy, farm conservation programs,global warming, natural gas facilities, fuel economy requirements, and various other issues.

In 2006, Senator Shelby received a 0 percent from the REP and a 0 percent from the LCV. According to these organizations, he voted "anti-environment" on the issue of energy and weatherization assistance, on drilling, environmental funding, peer review, renewable resources, and The Gulf of Mexico Security Act.


Leaking classified information

In 2004, a federal investigation concluded that Shelby revealed classified information to the media when he was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Specifically, Shelby revealed classified information on June 19, 2002 to Carl Cameron, the chief political correspondent on Fox News. This information had been given to Shelby only minutes before at a closed intelligence committee meeting. This information consisted of two messages intercepted by the National Security Agency on September 10, 2001, but translated only after the attacks the next day — "the match is about to begin" and "tomorrow is zero hour."

Both the U.S. attorney's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated the case, and a grand jury empaneled. In July 2004, the Department of Justice declined to file criminal charges against Shelby and transferred the case to the Senate Ethics Committee.

On August 11, 2004 media sources confirmed that Shelby had hired Washington-based attorney Gregory Craig, to represent him in investigations by the Ethics Committee. In November 2005, the Senate Ethics Committee dismissed its probe into the alleged leak of classified information regarding National Security Agency intercepts the day before the attacks, administering no punishment to Shelby.

Preceded by:
Senator, 16th Senate District of Alabama
Succeeded by:
Ryan deGraffenreid Jr
Preceded by:
Walter Flowers
Representative, 7th Congressional District of Alabama
Succeeded by:
Claude Harris Jr
Preceded by:
Jeremiah Denton
U.S. Senator from Alabama
Succeeded by:

Personal life and honors

Shelby Hall at the University of Alabama, the Shelby Center for Engineering Technology at Auburn University, and the Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building at UAB are all named for Shelby and his wife.

The Business Council of Alabama gave Shelby its "Distinguished Service Award" at a banquet in Birmingham attended by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Tommy Tuberville, and Governor Kay Ivey in 2022.

Shelby currently lives in Tuscaloosa with his wife, Annette Nevin Shelby. They have two sons — Richard Jr, and Claude Nevin. Claude and his wife Lisa have two children: a daughter, Anna Elizabeth Shelby, and a son, William Nevin Shelby.


  • Bamford, James (2004) A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies. New York: Doubleday. ISBN 0385506724 pp. 127–131.
  • "Richard Shelby" (July 5, 2011) Wikipedia - accessed July 15, 2011
  • Ackerman, Andrew (December 12, 2017) "‘Shelby Mafia’ Is Helping Trump Deregulate Wall Street." The Wall Street Journal
  • Dayen, David (April 24, 2019) "The 'Shelby Mafia' is Muscling Through a Major New Bank Merger." The Intercept
  • Stacy, Todd (October 4, 2022) "BCA honors Shelby as ‘greatest statesman’." Alabama Daily News

External links