Rep. Alcee Hastings dies at 84

Rep. Alcee Hastings died Tuesday morning, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Hastings, 84, had reportedly been in hospice recently after a 2019 diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. First elected to the House in 1992—one of three Black House members elected that year, a first since the end of Reconstruction—Hastings was at the time of his death the longest-serving member of the Florida congressional delegation. 

Just three years and two weeks before he was elected to Congress, Hastings—then a federal judge—was impeached, convicted, and removed from office relating to criminal charges of which he had been found not guilty by a jury in 1983. He was just the sixth federal judge ever removed from office by the Senate, a decade after having become Florida’s first Black federal judge. Being elected to Congress, then, was a significant form of redemption, even if his impeachment continued to shape his career, leading him to be passed over for chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections.

Retired public defender Howard Finkelstein saw those criminal charges as retaliation for Hastings’ outspokenness. “In the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the government only—only—only went after Black men that ascended to power,” Finkelstein told the Sun-Sentinel. “That is what they did, and they came after Alcee—all the king’s horses and all the king’s men—with everything they had to destroy this man.”

Before he was a federal judge, Alcee Hastings was a civil rights lawyer, one who moved to Broward County, Florida, in the early 1960s, when motels refused to rent him a room and the lawsuits he filed included one against a restaurant that was popular with judges and lawyers even as it would not serve Black customers. He was then appointed a Broward Circuit Court judge in 1977.

In Congress, the Sun-Sentinel recounts, Hastings “didn’t have a long list of marquee legislative achievements. He exercised influence internally, serving on the Rules Committee, a critical panel through which the majority party controls the flow of business on the House floor.” He chaired the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission.

The child of domestic workers, Hastings attended a segregated high school, then received his B.A. at Fisk University and his J.D. at Florida A&M. He is survived by his wife, Patricia Williams, three adult children from previous marriages, and a stepdaughter.

Hastings’ successor will be chosen in a special election, the timing of which will be decided by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“He feared no man. He feared no institution. He was not shy about voicing his dissent about any issue,” Rep. Frederica Wilson told The Hill of Hastings.