Born in Bessemer, Alabama, Harris earned his B.S. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1962, graduated from University of Alabama Law School in 1965 and served in the Alabama Army National Guard.
A Democrat from Alabama, he served in the United States House of Representatives from 1987 until 1993. He was succeeded in the House by Earl F. Hilliard. He was an assistant district attorney in Tuscaloosa County until 1977 when he took seat as a state circuit judge.
He stepped down from the bench in 1985 to run for Congress to succeed Richard Shelby, who ran for the United States Senate. Harris was elected three times in 1986, 1988, and 1990. He declined to run for reelection in 1992 after the legislature reconfigured his district into a majority-minority district in compliance with provisions in the Voting Rights Act, having little chance of being elected in the new district.
After leaving Congress, Harris was appointed United States Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama under the new Clinton administration in 1993. Harris died on October 2, 1994 in Birmingham, Alabama.
Member of executive board Black Warrior council Boy Scouts American. Member of advisory board, past chairman Salvation Army, Alabama. Chairman West Alabama Rehabilitation Center, 1986.
Married Barbara Ann Cork, December 31, 1969. Children: Jeff, Claude III.