Longtime Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings (D), the trail-blazing dean of the Florida congressional delegation, died Tuesday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, two leadership sources confirmed. He was 84.

Hastings started his career as a civil rights attorney and was nominated by former President Carter in 1979 as a federal judge in Florida. Nearly a decade later, he was impeached by the House for bribery and perjury and convicted by the Senate, making him only the sixth federal judge in U.S. history to be ousted from office by the Senate.

Hastings later made an unlikely political comeback in 1992, winning a seat in the same House of Representatives that impeached him years earlier. He would represent South Florida’s 20th District in Congress for 15 terms, making him the longest serving member of Congress in the Sunshine State’s delegation.

“It shows with perseverance and high self-esteem you can do anything. He is a role model and a trailblazer for other people who have gone through adversity in their lives because he proved you can really pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), a fellow Congressional Black Caucus member who knew Hastings for decades, told The Hill on Tuesday.

“He feared no man. He feared no institution. He was not shy about voicing his dissent about any issue,” she said.

Hastings’s death creates yet another vacancy in a deep-blue seat at a time Democrats can least afford it. Their razor-thin majority will shrink to 218-212 once Rep.-elect Julia Letlow (R-La.) is sworn in next week. That will mean Democrats can only afford two defections on any vote.

A special election will be held to fill the 20th Congressional District vacancy, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, will decide when to schedule it.

After earning his law degree from Florida A&M University in 1963, Hastings worked as a civil rights attorney. In that role, he fought against desegregation and poverty and for the “lost and the left out, especially Black people,” Wilson said.

“He was a giant freedom fighter,” she said. “Alcee woke up every day and put on armor to fight.”

Hastings ran for the U.S. Senate in 1970 but placed a disappointing fourth out of five Democratic hopefuls. He caught a break in 1977, when he was appointed a circuit court judge in Broward County; two year later, Carter tapped him for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, making him the first African American to serve on the federal bench in Florida.

However, Hastings quickly ran into legal problems. In 1981, he was indicted by a grand jury on charges that he planned to take a $150,000 bribe in exchange for giving two Miami mobsters a lenient sentence. He was acquitted by a jury in 1983 but his legal issues lingered, and in 1988 he was impeached by the Democratic-led House for bribery and perjury charges by a lopsided vote of 413-3. In 1989, the Senate found Hastings guilty on eight impeachment articles and he was removed from the federal bench.

Hastings would rebound from his legal and political defeats in one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern politics. In 1992, he ran for the U.S. House in a Broward County district and placed second in the Democratic primary. In a hard-fought runoff, he defeated a feisty state legislator named Lois Frankel, whom he would later serve with in Congress.

He won the heavily Democratic seat — making him the first Black man to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction — and would go on to win elections for 14 more terms in the House.

During the George W. Bush administration, Hastings made history again by serving as the first Black chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which promotes security and cooperation in Europe, and more recently he had risen to vice chairman of the influential Rules Committee.

“If you had Congressman Hastings on your side, you had one of the most effective advocates in Congress in your corner. We sat side by side in the committee for many years and I watched him take down phony arguments and lift up the truth with a turn of a phrase that only he could deliver,” Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said in a statement Tuesday.

“I have lost a friend, this Congress has lost a giant, and those who all too often go unseen in America have lost a champion.”

In January 2019, Hastings was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He remained active on his committees as he underwent treatment in Washington, but began to miss votes in recent months.

“Alcee fought an heroic battle against cancer with personal courage, good humor and incredible dedication to his duties as a Member of Congress,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the top Republican on the Rules panel who served with Hastings in the House for 18 years.

“While we often disagreed politically, I marveled at his eloquence and passion and enjoyed his wry wit, civility and personal decency.”

Updated at 12:54 p.m. 

Tags Alcee Hastings Death federal judge Florida Florida Democrat Frederica Wilson lawmaker Lois Frankel obituary Ron DeSantis Tom Cole
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