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Rep. Alcee Hastings, barrier-breaking Florida Democrat, dies at 84

Hastings, who had been serving his 15th term in Congress, was impeached and removed in 1989 as a federal judge before his congressional career.
Alcee Hastings testifies at his impeachment trial on July 1, 1989.
Alcee Hastings testifies at his impeachment trial on July 1, 1989.Michael Jenkins / CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., a former federal judge and civil rights activist in his 15th term in Congress, has died at 84.

"He lived a life of triumph over adversity, and his brilliance and compassion was felt amongst his constituents, colleagues, the nation and the world," his family said in a statement. "He lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice. He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind."

Hastings said in early 2019 that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was undergoing treatment at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington.

His death means another vacancy in the House, which narrows the Democratic majority and makes it increasingly harder for the party to pass legislation without near total agreement.

Hastings represented Florida’s 20th Congressional District, which covers parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. Hastings had been serving as vice chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee and was the most senior member of his state’s congressional delegation. He was recently appointed a senior whip by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.

Hastings served in the House since 1993, making a comeback after it impeached him in 1988 and the Senate removed him as a federal judge a year later after finding him guilty of perjury and conspiring to solicit a bribe. Hastings became Florida’s first black federal judge in 1979, having been appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Hastings’s death was first reported Tuesday by The Sun Sentinel newspaper.

"A trailblazing lawyer who grew up in the Jim Crow South, Alcee was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation live up to its full promise for all Americans," President Joe Biden said in a statement on Tuesday. "Across his long career of public service, Alcee always stood up to fight for equality, and always showed up for the working people he represented. And even in his final battle with cancer, he simply never gave up.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that the congressional community is devastated by Hastings's death.

"All who knew Alcee knew him as a champion for the most vulnerable in our nation," she said. "As an attorney, civil rights activist and judge, and over his nearly thirty years in Congress, he fought tirelessly to create opportunities to lift up working families, communities of color, children and immigrants. Congressman Hastings leaves behind a powerful legacy of activism and action on behalf of Floridians and all Americans. His leadership and friendship will be missed by his many friends in Congress."

Vice President Kamala Harris said Hastings welcomed her to the Congressional Black Caucus in her early days in the Senate days.

"He exuded the kind of warmth and good humor that not only put me at ease, but encouraged me to speak my mind," she said in a statement. "Born in the Jim Crow South, Congressman Hastings understood our obligation to speak truth better than most."