What You Need To Know:
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, civil rights lawyer and Florida’s first Black federal judge, died April 6. Hastings, a Democratic member of the U.S. House elected for 15 terms, was 84. A cause of death has not been announced. In 2019, the congressman confirmed he was receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer.
Hastings’ story is remarkable. The son of domestic servants, Hastings was born September 5, 1936 in Altamonte Springs, a farming town north of Orlando. According to the Miami Herald, he changed his name from Alcea Lamar Merritt to Alcee Lamar Hastings, adopting his stepfather’s last name. As a young boy, Hastings was raised in Jim-Crow-era Florida, picking beans and tangerines while living with his grandmother, who became his guardian while his parents moved frequently for work.
After attending a segregated high school, Hastings continued his studies at Fisk University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1958. His education in the field of law began at Howard University Law School. After being expelled for what he called “nonseriousness of purpose,” Hastings headed to Florida A&M University, where he earned his law degree in 1963.
Hastings was active in the civil rights movement, being jailed six times for participating in various demonstrations. He made history just six months after graduating from law school, when he was refused a room at a Holiday Inn in Fort Lauderdale and filed suit. Soon after, the state integrated hotels across Broward County.
He was appointed to the federal bench by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 and, in 1992, became one of Florida’s first three Black representatives since Reconstruction. Hastings represented Florida’s 23rd congressional district from 1993 to 2013 and Florida’s 20th congressional district from 2013 until his death. He became a senior Democrat on the House Rules Committee, and in 2004, was elected president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly.
During his law and political career, Hastings dealt with allegations of impropriety, corruption and sexual harassment. He became the sixth federal judge to be removed from office after an FBI sting operation and bribery investigation led to his indictment on charges of soliciting a $150,000 bribe in exchange for leniency toward two men convicted of stealing money from a pension fund. In 2017, a report by Roll Call revealed that the congressional Office of Compliance approved a $220,000 settlement with one of Hastings’s former staffers, who alleged that he had made unwanted sexual advances.
Rep. Hastings called the allegations “ludicrous,” and a House ethics investigation cleared him of wrongdoing but chastised him for “certain conduct that is less than professional.”
Despite the many challenges, Hastings went on to win reelection 14 times with tremendous support from his constituents in the Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach district. He faced little political opposition through the years, championing affordable day care, universal health care and a ban on assault weapons at the core of his progressive agenda.
Why We Need to Know:
The death of Rep. Alcee Hastings is drawing condolences from his colleagues and constituents, but also brings into question his successor in Florida’s 20th Congressional District. Democrats now hold a slim majority of seven in the House, giving the party a smaller margin of error in passing legislation.