Florida Rep. Alcee L. Hastings dies at 84

South Florida congressman had battled pancreatic cancer

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., has died. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla., has died. (Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)
Posted April 6, 2021 at 9:59am

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings died Tuesday at the age of 84, and was remembered by Republicans and Democrats alike for a sharp mind and dry wit.

Hastings had been undergoing a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer, a diagnosis he announced in January 2019. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that he spent his final days in hospice care.

The Florida Democrat, who was once impeached by the House and removed from office when he was a federal judge, was well liked by his colleagues and known for his expertise in foreign affairs.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Hastings “a champion for the most vulnerable in our nation” and “a trusted voice in the intelligence community.”

He ultimately became the senior member of the Florida congressional delegation and was serving his 15th term.

Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush noted that he and Hastings were part of a huge class of post-Watergate Democrats swept into office after 1974.

“Alcee was a lawyer’s lawyer, a legislative rules genius, and an indefatigable servant of our nation at large and his Florida community.  In our Congressional Black Caucus meetings, Alcee would occasionally use colorful language to awaken us to the brilliance of his extraordinary insight.  His sanguine and superb wisdom helped us all to never forget why we were elected to Congress in the first place,” Rush said.

Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma served with Hastings for 10 years on the Rules Committee.

“While we often disagreed politically, I marveled at his eloquence and passion and enjoyed his wry wit, civility and personal decency,” Cole said. "All of us on Rules on both sides of the aisle will miss our good friend.”

Another Republican, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said Hastings was an inspiration to the entire state delegation.

“Working alongside him on issues like Everglades restoration has been a personal highlight in my own work in the Senate,” Rubio said.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said Hastings' life "was devoted to righting wrongs and he wasn’t afraid to use a little shame to press for change."

Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, who also represents constituents in the same region, said Hastings "knew the importance of bringing together the Black and Jewish communities to achieve shared goals. He was a staunch supporter of the US-Israel relationship and valued the important bilateral partnership. He was a voice for animals. And he stood with the Parkland community following the 2018 tragedy and tirelessly fought for tougher gun laws to protect our communities."

Voters in the 20th District will pick a successor to Hastings in a special election, though it’s up to the state’s GOP governor, Ron DeSantis, to determine the timing of when they’d head to the polls.

As it is currently drawn, the 20th District is a deeply Democratic, and Hastings won reelection in November with nearly 79 percent of the vote. The majority-Black district includes parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties and some of the Everglades, but congressional district lines will shift and the state is expected to pick up an additional seat in the House in redistricting.

Hastings was born in 1936 in Altamonte Springs, Fla. Growing up in a poor family, he went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in biology from Fisk University and later earned a law degree from Florida A&M University.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Hastings to the federal bench and Hastings became the first African American federal judge in Florida. However, his time on the bench was marred with controversy amid charges he accepted a $150,000 bribe.

Though Hastings was acquitted, later investigations showed that he fabricated evidence, leading to a House impeachment and a dismissal from the Senate.

Hastings remained in the public sphere despite the controversy, winning a seat in Congress in 1992. The Florida Democrat has handily won each race since, running unopposed in a number of contests.

During his nearly three decades in Congress, Hastings defined himself as a liberal congressman who was an expert on international affairs. He was the first Black lawmaker to chair the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, otherwise known as the Helsinki Commission.

Hastings also served as vice chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Democratic Select Committee on Election Reform, and he was a long time member of the House Rules Committee.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.