Representative Alcee Hastings, a former federal judge who despite impeachment and removal from the bank was elected to Congress, where he campaigned for civil rights and was promoted to dean of the Florida delegation, died Tuesday. He was 84 years old.
Lale Morrison, his chief of staff, confirmed the death. She did not provide any further details.
Mr Hastings, a Democrat, announced in early 2019 that he had pancreatic cancer. He continued to perform publicly for a while but was unable to travel to Washington in January to take the oath of office.
His death diminishes his party’s already small majority in the House of Representatives, now between 218 and 211, until a special election can be held to fill his seat. Its borough, which includes black communities around Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and a vast, less populated area around Lake Okeechobee, is reliably democratic.
A strong liberal voice, Mr. Hastings was a landmark civil rights attorney in Fort Lauderdale in the 1960s and 1970s deeply inhospitable to blacks. During his career, he campaigned against racial injustice, advocated for gay people, immigrants, women and the elderly, and advocated better access to health care and higher wages. He was also an advocate of Israel.
He achieved many premieres. He was Florida’s first black federal judge and one of three black Floridians to go to Congress in 1992. For the first time since the reconstruction, Florida had elected African American candidates to this body. He served 15 terms in the House, longer than any other current member, making him dean of the delegation.
Earlier in his career, he had been the first black candidate to run for the Senate from Florida.
In 1979 he was appointed to the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida by President Jimmy Carter. In 1981 he became the first seated federal judge to be charged with alleged bribery. The case ended in front of the house that indicted him in 1988. The Senate sentenced him in 1989 and removed him from the bank.
But it didn’t stop him from seeking public office again, and three years later he won his seat in Congress. He took the oath of office in front of the same corpse that had charged him.
When his wings were cut off in Washington, Mr. Hastings was revered at home, where his early struggles for civil rights and openness helped him easily win re-election for nearly three decades.
In a look back at his career in 2019 The Palm Beach Post described him as “a man of immense gifts – boldness, intellect, wit – who repeatedly and brazenly stepped to the edge of the cliff’s ethics without worrying that a scandal could shake his hold on a custom-made convention district.”
Alcee Lamar Hastings was born on September 5, 1936 in Altamonte Springs, a largely black suburb of Orlando. His father, Julius Hastings, was a butler, and his mother, Mildred (Merritt) Hastings, was a maid.
His parents eventually left Florida to take jobs and earn money for his education. Alcee stayed with his maternal grandmother while attending Crooms Academy in Sanford, Florida, which was founded for African American students and is now known as the Crooms Academy of Information Technology. He graduated in 1953.
He attended Fisk University in Nashville, graduating in 1958 with a major in zoology and botany, and studying law at Howard University before moving to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee. He received his law degree there in 1963.
As a student, he was involved in early civil rights battles. He remembered a North Carolina drugstore in 1959 and later said, “That was the beginning of the civil rights movement, and the people of Walgreens broke eggs on our heads and tossed us mustard, ketchup, and salt. We sat and took it all. “
He joined a private practice as a civil rights attorney in Fort Lauderdale. According to The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a motel would not rent him a room upon arrival. For much of the 1960s and 1970s, parts of the county were dangerous to black people.
At a luncheon in honor of Mr. Hastings in 2019, the newspaper said Howard Finkelstein, a former Broward County’s public defender, called him a “howling voice” who tried to convict Broward from a “little cracker town that was racist, was mean and vicious “to change.
Mr. Hastings filed lawsuits seeking school segregation in Broward County. He also sued Cat’s Meow, a restaurant that was popular with white lawyers and judges but wouldn’t serve blacks. The owner soon closed the lawsuit and opened the restaurant’s doors to everyone.
Mr. Hastings ran unsuccessfully for public office several times, including the 1970 Democratic nomination for the US Senate. He wanted to show that a black man can run, but received death threats in the process.
Representative Charlie Crist, who was Republican when he was governor of Florida but later became a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday that he “ignores Congressman Hastings’ advocacy for Florida’s black communities at a time when that advocacy is at best was, had long admired and in the worst case actively suppressed or punished. “
Governor Reuben Askew appointed Mr. Hastings to the Broward County Circuit Court in 1977; The swearing-in ceremony was held at a high school that he had helped desegregate. Two years later, President Carter appointed him to the Bundesbank.
But in 1981 Mr. Hastings has been charged on charges of soliciting a $ 150,000 bribe in exchange for reducing the sentences of two mob-related offenders convicted in his court.
A jury acquitted him in 1983 after his alleged co-conspirator refused to testify and Mr. Hastings returned to the bank.
It was later suspected that he had lied and falsified evidence during the trial in order to obtain an acquittal. A three-year investigation by a judicial panel found that Mr. Hastings actually committed perjury, manipulated evidence, and conspired to make financial gains by accepting bribes.
As a result, Congress took up the case in 1988. The House indicted him by 413 votes to 3. The next year the Senate convicted him of eight out of eleven articles and removed him from the bank.
Despite his tainted record, Mr. Hastings was elected three years later to represent a district with a strong minority.
His impeachment was never far from the surface in the house. This was evident after the Democrats regained control in 2006. Mr. Hastings was on the verge of becoming chairman of the intelligence committee. The Republicans used his story against the Democrats and had Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, transfer the chairmanship to someone else.
Mr. Hastings’ survivors include his wife, Patricia Williams; three adult children from previous marriages, Alcee Hastings II, Chelsea Hastings, and Leigh Hastings; and a stepdaughter, Maisha.
Mr. Hastings never sponsored major laws, but he could be counted on to be free to express himself. He had a particular dislike of President Donald J. Trump, whom he once described as a “sentient pile of excrement”.
Saying what was on his mind had long been a habit of his. It got him in trouble as soon as he was called to the bank as he deviated from the norms of law, criticized President Ronald Reagan, and appeared at a 1984 rally for Rev. Jesse Jackson, who ran for Democratic President nomination.
But Mr. Hastings saw nothing wrong with expressing his views; Just because he was a judge didn’t mean he was “neutered”. As Mr Crist said, Mr Hastings “was never afraid to give voice to the voiceless and tell the truth to power.”
Nor was his confidence checked.
“I enjoyed some of the fighting and even the trial of being charged and removed from the bank,” he told The Associated Press in 2013. I didn’t do it and I didn’t do it. “
Maggie Astor contributed to the coverage.