Robert Brown Aderholt (1965-) is the current Republican congressional representative for the Fourth District in Alabama. Elected in 1996, Aderholt was the first Republican elected to this seat since 1964. He also has practiced as a private attorney, served as a municipal judge, and acted as legal assistant for Alabama governor Forrest “Fob” James. In recent elections, he has been re-elected by wide margins.
Rep. Robert Aderholt Aderholt was born on July 22, 1965, in Haleyville, in Marion and Winston counties, to Mary Frances Brown and Bobby Ray Aderholt. He is an only child. His father served as a circuit judge in Alabama for 30 years, while also maintaining a position as part-time minister for their Baptist Church. He graduated from Haleyville High School in 1979. Aderholt attended Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham, Jefferson County, majoring in history and political science, was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1987. He then attended the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham and received his JD in 1990. Aderholt practiced for two years as a private attorney and in 1992 was appointed by the Haleyville City Commission to a municipal judgeship. In 1995, he became a legal assistant in the administration of Governor James, earning his endorsement to run for Congress in 1996. Aderholt married Caroline McDonald in 1994; the couple would have two children.
In 1996, Aderholt was elected as representative to Alabama’s Fourth District, which is located in the north-central part of the state and covers parts of the Decatur–Huntsville metropolitan area, as well as the cities of Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, Jasper, Cullman, Gadsden, and Fort Payne, among others, and portions of the surrounding counties. He succeeded longtime Democratic congressman Tom Bevill, who did not stand for reelection. After winning the Republican primary, Aderholt faced off against Democratic candidate Robert T. Wilson, winning the election by fewer than two percentage points. In 1998, he again ran in a hard-fought race for Congress, this time against Tom Bevill’s son Don Bevill. In this election, Aderholt defeated Bevill with 56 percent of the vote. Aderholt has since faced little competition, winning each election with at least 60 percent and the 2012 election with 74 percent. Since 1996, he has served on the Committee on Appropriations and is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science. In 2000, he successfully campaigned to have a federal building located in Jasper, Walker County, named for the late U.S. Representative Carl Elliott. A long-term effort by Aderholt, which would have allowed notarized documents to be recognized across state lines, ended with a presidential veto in 2010 because of concerns with fraudulent mortgage documents during the Great Recession.
Aderholt is conservative on both economic and social issues. In 2010, he joined the congressional Tea Party Caucus and gained political support from activists within this group. He voted against several high-profile economic stabilization and stimulus bills to counter the Great Recession, stating that he believe them unlikely to help Alabama, and against Pres. Barack Obama’s signature healthcare reform initiative, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, and later voted for its repeal. He also has taken a conservative stand on immigration and abortion rights.
He is perhaps best known for leading several unsuccessful efforts to allow the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public places, being prompted by a 1997 federal ruling that prohibited Alabama circuit judge Roy Moore from displaying the Ten Commandments on the wall in his Etowah County courthouse. He sponsored several pieces of legislation related to the issue, including “The Ten Commandments Defense Act” in 1998, 2002, and 2003. Aderholt also has extended his views on religious expression to an international level, using his seat on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, and also referred to as the Helsinki Commission) to demand religious freedom of expression in countries such as Georgia and Turkmenistan in the former Soviet Union; the organization has a much broader purpose, including promoting human rights, territorial integrity, and the equality of states.
Aderholt also has taken a strong stance against what he views as excessive government spending but went against much of his party over the issue of congressional earmarks. Many Republicans within Congress sought to end the practice, hoping to curb government spending, but he joined a bi-partisan effort in 2010 helping to pass a bill that placed only a temporary moratorium on the practice. Aderholt has since maintained that earmarks are essential to the functioning of government and has fought efforts to make the moratorium permanent.
Indeed, Aderholt has used his position on the House Appropriation Committee to secure millions in federal funds for infrastructure, industries, and institutions within his district. In 2000, he sought and received $100 million for a highway improvement plan known as Corridor X to make road improvements between Birmingham and Memphis, Tennessee. In 2000, after the closing of a Gulf States Steel Corporation plant in Gadsden, Etowah County, Aderholt backed legislation guaranteeing loans for steel companies within the United States. His support of infrastructure within his district and his continued backing of steel companies has garnered support from labor unions such as the AFL-CIO, which has contributed to his campaign. Aderholt has also supported the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. In 2010, he unsuccessfully fought to retain funding for NASA’s Constellation human space flight program, which would have relied on major components built at the center and research from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Aderholt safeguarded industries in Alabama that were threatened by low import duties, such as a sleeping bag manufacturer in Fort Payne, DeKalb County, in 2010 and the city’s sock industry in 2005. Throughout his career, he has maintained a supportive stance for Alabama’s agriculture industry, including legislation for drought relief. In 2012, his campaign office was fined $13,000 by the Federal Election Commission for inaccurately reporting campaign expenses from 2006 to 2010.
On January 6, 2021, as Congress was counting electoral votes in the process of certifying the election of Democrat Joseph R. Biden as president of the United States, supporters of outgoing president Donald J. Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to prevent that certification. Aderholt was one of many House Republicans who voted against certifying the electors on false claims of voter fraud. He also voted against Trump’s subsequent impeachment. Aderholt later denounced the violence of the insurrection. After Republicans took control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections, Aderholt was named chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.