Dave Martin  /  AP
Former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin in 1999.
updated 3/29/2005 9:40:45 PM ET 2005-03-30T02:40:45

Former U.S. Sen. Howell Heflin, a popular Alabama politician who served three terms in Washington, has died, lawmakers announced Tuesday. He was 83.

Heflin’s death was announced on the floor of the state Senate, which held a moment of silence.

The cause of death was not immediately clear. Heflin had undergone heart procedures in recent years and had been hospitalized for the last couple of days, according to a longtime friend, Joseph Ware, at Heflin’s home in Tuscumbia.

Heflin, a Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978 and retired after 18 years, serving on the Judiciary and Ethics committees and the panel that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal. He was viewed as the chamber’s top authority on ethics, heading the ethics panel for nearly a decade when Democrats were in the majority.

On the judiciary panel, he was remembered for joining in the votes that rejected the nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court and Alabama federal prosecutor Jeff Sessions to a federal judgeship. The tables eventually turned, with Sessions, a Republican, winning Heflin’s seat when he retired.

Before he was elected to the Senate, Heflin spearheaded judicial reform in Alabama as the state’s chief justice.

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