Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Shelby received his law degree from the Birmingham School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1961. After law school in 1963, he went on to serve as city prosecutor (1963â€“1971). During this period he worked as a U.S. Magistrate for the Northern District of Alabama (1966â€“1970) and Special Assistant Attorney General of Alabama (1969â€“1971). He won a seat in the Alabama Senate in 1970. In 1978, he was elected from the 7th District to the United States House of Representatives, where he was among a group of Conservative Democrats known as the boll weevils.
Shelby was known for his solidly conservative stance. He took a strong interest in military causes, advocating increased defense spending even while proposing cutbacks in other areas. He also was a proponent of the flat tax and a longtime champion of a constitutional amendment requiring the federal government to maintain a balanced budget. Even with his fiscal conservatism, however, he was a strong advocate of spending on science, technology, engineering, and math education as an engine of economic growth. Although Shelby typically voted with Republican leadership, he occasionally broke with the party, notably when Pres. George W. Bush’s administration oversaw the bailout of banks and brokerage firms following the financial crisis that emerged in 2008. He continued to oppose the aid when Pres. Barack Obama came into office, and he later was a vocal foe of that administration’s legislative proposals and enactments, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010), immigration reform, and tax increases on the wealthy.