Richard Craig Shelby (born May 6, 1934) is the senior United States Senator from Alabama. First elected to the Senate in 1986, he is the ranking member of the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and was its chairman from 2003 to 2007.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Shelby received his law degree from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, where he went on to serve as city prosecutor (1963–1971). During this period he worked as a U.S. Magistrate for the Northern District of Alabama (1966–1970) and Special Assistant Attorney General of Alabama (1969–1971). He won a seat in the Alabama Senate in 1970. In 1978 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives from the 7th District, where he was among a group of conservative Democrats known as the boll weevils. Shelby won a tight race in 1986 for the U.S. Senate. Originally elected as a Democrat, Shelby switched to the Republican Party in 1994 when Republicans gained the majority in Congress midway through President Bill Clinton's first term. He was re-elected by a large margin in 1998 and has faced no electoral opposition since.
Early life, education, and early career
Shelby was born in Birmingham, Alabama, the son of Alice L. (née Skinner) and Ozie Houston Shelby. He attended the University of Alabama, receiving an undergraduate degree in 1957 and a Juris Doctor in 1963.
Shelby is a member of the American Bar Association and Alabama State Bar, as well as the American Judicature Society, Alabama Law Institute, Delta Chi Fraternity, and Phi Alpha Delta legal fraternity.
Shelby was a city prosecutor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama 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 Tuscaloosa-based 7th District. He was re-elected three times.
He was one of the more conservative Democrats in Congress, and 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.
In 1986, Shelby 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.
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 or 2010.
Shelby remains popular in Alabama. A September 2009 poll showed he had a 58% approval rating, with 35% disapproving.
In 1987, Shelby opposed Reagan's nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court; a move attributed to lobbying by Alabama African-American leaders who reminded Shelby that he had relied on support from African-American voters in defeating Denton in 1986.
Shelby publicly feuded with Bill Clinton during the first half of Clinton's first 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".
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. Shelby also took a hard line on leaks of classified information. In 2000. he introduced a bill (vetoed by President Clinton) "that would have broadened the law that criminalizes release of "national defense information." According to the Washington Post:
"Civil liberties groups and news organizations, which argued that the legislation would chill their ability to get information from officials, lobbied for the veto. . . . In 2002, with George W. Bush in the White House, Shelby reintroduced his language, but then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said that "rigorous investigation" and enforcement of existing laws -- not new legislation -- were the best way to fight leaks.
Senator Shelby has supported several gun control measures put forth by Democrats including the 1991 Crime Bill S.1241 sponsored by then Senator Joseph Biden that instituted a national waiting period for handgun purchases as well as a federal ban on semi-automatic firearms. In 1998, Shelby voted for Senator Barbara Boxer's Trigger Lock Amendment 3230, requiring the purchase of a trigger lock with the sale of each handgun. Firearms dealers who do not comply are guilty of a federal crime and face revocation of their Federal Firearms License and civil fines up to $10,000 for each omission.
Shelby was also highly critical of CIA Director George Tenet in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. 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. 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 the Democrats regained control of the Senate.
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. The information consisted of two messages intercepted by the National Security Agency on September 10, 2001, but were only translated the day after the attacks — "the match is about to begin" and "tomorrow is zero hour." The Department of Justice declined to file criminal charges against Shelby and transferred the case to the Senate Ethics Committee, which dismissed its probe into the alleged leak.
Shelby, in his role as chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs, opposed proposed legislation that would have permitted additional competition in the title insurance industry.
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 Metroplex of Dallas–Fort Worth, 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.
On February 5, 2010, Shelby placed a hold on over 70 of Obama's nominees to various government posts, in a protest over an Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker contract and the FBI's Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center. Shelby lifted all but three of the holds on February 8, 2010, releasing a statement that "The purpose of placing numerous holds was to get the White House’s attention on two issues that are critical to our national security – the Air Force’s aerial refueling tanker acquisition and the FBI’s Terrorist Device Analytical Center (TEDAC).
With that accomplished, Sen. Shelby has decided to release his holds on all but a few nominees directly related to the Air Force tanker acquisition until the new Request for Proposal is issued." White House spokesman Robert Gibbs criticized Shelby for "hold[ing] up qualified nominees for positions that are needed because he didn't get two earmarks"; Shelby denied the holds were over earmarks.
Shelby criticised the Obama administration for abandoning NASA's Constellation program stating "It is unfortunate that this administration is choosing to abandon our nation's only chance at remaining the leader in human space flight. It is ironic that Constellation, a program born out of the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, would be eliminated in lieu of rockets repeatedly deemed unsafe for astronauts by NASA's own Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. If this budget is enacted, NASA will no longer be an agency of innovation and hard science; it will be the agency of pipe dreams and fairy tales." Shelby failed to cite any evidence that the untested Ares rockets, being developed under the Constellation program, would be any safer than existing rockets.
Critics point out that Shelby supports big government programs but ignores the private sector at every opportunity. Although he called Constellation "our nation's only chance at remaining the leader in human space flight," a number of private companies were, and are, competing to develop orbital launch systems. Among these companies is United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture that builds rockets in Shelby's home state. Numerous other companies are developing reusable suborbital launch vehicles, which could evolve into orbital systems. Unlike Constellation, these reusable vehicles offer the promise of significant cost and safety improvements. Critics worry that Shelby's support of an expensive expendable rocket will lock NASA into using expendable technologies for another several decades, thereby jeopardizing astronaut safety.
With a reputation as a moderate Republican, Shelby has taken conservative stances on taxation, abortion and immigration, while siding with the Democratic stance on other issues, such as opposing free-trade agreements and voting against the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act. During the 1990s he was a strong opponent of the Clinton administration's spending and tax policies, while supporting some gun control measures. He served on the Select Committee on Intelligence, where he battled CIA leaders and attempted to curtail the release of information to the public. A federal investigation uncovered that he had released classified memos to the Fox News Channel in 2002, but no charges were pressed.
He chaired the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee from 2003 to 2007 and remains the committee's Republican ranking member. During President Barack Obama's administration he placed a hold on 70 government nominees to draw attention to certain national security issues. He has opposed the bulk of the Democratic legislative agenda since they took control of the Senate in 2007, including economic bailout measures and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Shelby first opposed, then ignored the Republican Party moratorium on earmark funding. He is a leading backer of the Space Launch System, more commonly known as the Senate Launch System, an expensive, Congressionally mandated rocket that would increase the cost of space transportation but benefit NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, located in Shelby's home state.
Shelby has disagreed with other Senators over details design of the SLS, however. Other Senators, include Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, want an SLS design that uses solid-rocket motors manufactured by ATK (Alliant Techsystems)for its strap-on boosters. Shelby favors competition for the strap-on booster design. Neither favors competition for core elements of the rocket, however.
The SLS earmark has been opposed by fiscal conservative groups, including the Tea Party, as well as space-exploration advocacy groups. Congressman Tom McClintock (R-CA) has expressed "serious concerns with NASA's attempt to avoid holding a full and open competition to acquire the SLS." Rep. McClintock "stringly believe[s] that such a de facto sole source award would be a violation of the 1984 Competition in Contracting Act." Rep. McClintock has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the SLS earmark.
Because of its high cost, the SLS is the single largest earmark in the Federal budget and possibly the single large earmark in US history.
Shelby took a leading role in the resistance to bailing out the banks and other corporations (such as AIG), both under the Bush Administration, in 2008, and the Obama Administration, beginning in 2009.
Senator Shelby has also supported several key gun control measures put forth by Democrats, including the 1991 Crime Bill S.1241 sponsored by then Senator Joseph Biden that instituted a national waiting period for handgun purchases as well as a federal ban on semi-automatic firearms.
In 1998, Shelby voted for Senator Barbara Boxer's Trigger Lock Amendment 3230, a law requiring the purchase of a trigger lock with the sale of each handgun. Firearms dealers who do not comply with the law are guilty of a federal crime and face revocation of their Federal Firearms License and civil fines up to $10,000 for each omission.
He is against 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.
Shelby is considered to be much more independent-minded than his Senate colleague from Alabama, 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. In 1999 he was the only Senate Republican to vote against the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Shelby also voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement and opposes most free trade agreements, most recently the Central America Free Trade Agreement. When he was a Democrat, Shelby opposed the confirmation of Robert Bork to the United States Supreme Court in 1987. He supported the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito almost two decades later.
Other Republicans have criticized the SLS earmark, which has even become an issue in the Presidential primary. At a town meeting hosted by the Dallas Tea Party, Presidential Candidate and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich criticized politicians supporting the Space Launch System, "I think it is disgraceful the way getting into space has been turned into a political pork-barrel. It’s an abuse of the taxpayer and an abuse of America’s future.”
In 1999, Shelby was one of ten Republican senators to vote for the acquittal of President Bill Clinton on the charge of perjury when Clinton was tried in the Senate in 1999, although he voted for Clinton's conviction on the charge of obstruction of justice.
Shelby opposed the initial bailout proposal to extend billions of dollars in loan money to the Big Three US Auto Manufacturers. He is often seen as a front man for the GOP Senate opposition. In late 2008, he opposed a Federal government bridge loan for US-owned auto companies, saying: "We don't need government - governmental subsidies for manufacturing in this country. It's the French model, it's the wrong road. We will pay for it. The average American taxpayer is going to pay dearly for this, if I'm not wrong." Shelby's opposition to manufacturing subsidies does not extend to his own state, however, especially the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. When it comes to aerospace, Shelby ridicules private enterprise as a "faith-based initiative" and supports a national monopoly space transportation system owned and operated by the Federal government.
Sen. Richard Shelby voted to block three amendments to regulate banks, including an amendment #3812 to S. 3217,to cap ATM fees at $0.50 per transaction, and also to bar banks who borrowed tax payer money through TARP funds to use those funds for their own benefit. Sen. Shelby also believes that bank oversight violates the right to privacy and is against the Government Office of Financial Research being able to collect any financial data it needs to regulate the bank industry.
Shelby opposed President Barack Obama's health reform legislation; he voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, and he voted against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010.
Shelby opposed the nomination of Nobel Economics Prize laureate and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Peter Diamond to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve, on the grounds that professor Diamond "lacked the necessary qualifications".
Shelby is a signer of Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge.