Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat who broke barriers, dies at 84

WASHINGTON – Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, former federal judge and civil rights activist in his 15th term in Congress, has died at age 84.

“He lived a life of triumph over adversity, and his brilliance and compassion were felt among 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 by acknowledging and respecting the humanity of all humanity.”

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

His death spells another vacancy in the House, reducing the Democratic majority and making it increasingly difficult for the party to pass laws without near full agreement.

Hastings represented the 20th Congressional District of Florida, which covers parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties. Hastings had served as vice chair of the powerful House Rules Committee and was the highest ranking member of his state’s Congressional delegation. He was recently appointed senior whip by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, DS.C.

Hastings served in the House since 1993, returning after he was indicted 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, after being appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

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

“A pioneering attorney who grew up in Jim Crow South, Alcee was outspoken because he was passionate about helping our nation fulfill its full promise to all Americans,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Tuesday. “Throughout her long career in public service, Alcee always stood up to fight for equality and always stood up for the workers she represented. And even in her final battle with cancer, she just never gave up.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement that the Congressional community is devastated by Hastings’ death.

“Everyone who knew Alcee knew him as a champion of our nation’s most vulnerable,” he said. As an attorney, civil rights activist, and judge, and during his nearly thirty years in Congress, he fought tirelessly to create opportunities to help 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 many friends in Congress will miss his leadership and friendship. “

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

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

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