Hastings, Alcee L. 1936–
Alcee L. Hastings 1936–
Alcee Hastings—the congressman from Florida’s 23rd Congressional District—was elected to office in 1992, even though controversy surrounded Hastings throughout his 1992 campaign, election, and subsequent seating in the House of Representatives. While serving as a U.S. federal judge in 1988, he was impeached by the Congress of the United States, and then convicted of perjury and conspiracy to accept a bribe and was removed from office in 1989. He has been reelected twice since then.
Hastings’s troubles in the judiciary stemmed from a case in 1981 when he was indicted by a grand jury in the Southern District of Florida on charges of plotting to obtain a $150,000 bribe in exchange for giving two convicted Miami mobsters lighter sentences. According to a report in the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, after Hastings’s acquittal in 1983, a special investigating committee of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hastings had fabricated evidence to win acquittal and two fellow judges alleged that Hastings had perjured himself to avoid conviction. The panel sent findings to Congress recommending that Hastings be impeached.
Under the Constitution, Congress has the power to remove federal officials for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The House votes on impeachment and the Senate conducts the trial. In Hastings’s case, the House voted 413-3 to impeach and the Senate voted 69-26 to convict on charges of perjury and conspiracy to accept a bribe. At that point, Hastings was stripped of his lifetime position.
On September 17, 1992 subsequent to his impeachment, conviction, and removal from the U.S. District Court but prior to his election to the House of Representatives, U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin ruled that the Senate improperly convicted Hastings for bribery in 1989. Sporkin ruled that Hastings’s rights were violated when the Senate chose a panel of 12 to hear the testimony against him rather than holding trial by the entire Senate which is generally required in an impeachment hearing. Therefore, Sporkin overturned the conviction against Hastings pending the outcome of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a related case.
At a Glance…
Born Alcee Lamar Hastings, September 5, 1936 in Altamonte Springs, FL; son of Julius C. and Mildred L. Hastings; divorced; children: Alcee Lamar II, Chelsea, Leigh; Education: B.A., Fisk Univ., 1958; J.D., Howard Univ., School of Law, 1960; Florida A&M Univ., 1963; Politics: Democrat.
Admitted to the FL bar, 1963; circuit judge, 1977-79; U.S. District Court Judge, Southern Dist. of FL, 1979-89 (impeached, 1988; convicted of conspiracy to accept a bribe and perjury—removed from bench, 1989); U.S. House of Rep., Florida’s 23rd Congr. District, 1992-.
Selected memberships: AME Church; NAACP; Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce; ACLU; Southern Poverty Law Ctr.; NOW; Planned Parenthood; Women & Children First, Inc.; Sierra Club; Broward County Dem. Exec. Comm.; Dade County Dem. Exec. Comm.; Lauderhill Democratic Club; Pembroke Pines Democratic Club; Urban League; Natl. Bar Assn., FL Chapter of the Natl. Bar Assn.; T. J. Reddick Bar Assn.; Natl. Conf. of Black Lawyers; Simon Wisenthal Ctr.; The Furtivist Soc.; Progressive Black Police Officers Club; Intl. Black Firefighters Assn.; Foreign Affairs Comm.; Merchant Marine and Fisheries Comm.; Science Comm.
Awards: Humanitarian Award, Broward County Young Democrats, 1978; Citizen of the Year, Zeta Phi Beta, 1978; Sam Delevoe Human Rights Award, Commun. Rel. Bd. of Broward County, 1978; Glades Festival of Afro Arts Award, Zeta Phi Beta, 1981; Man of the Year, Italian American Affairs Comm., 1979-80; Judge Alcee Hastings Day proclaimed, City of Daytona Beach, Dec. 14, 1980.
Addresses: Washington Office: 1039 Longworth Bldg, Washington, DC, 20515-0923; Fort Lauderdale Office: 2701 W. Oakland Park Blvd, Ste 200, Oakland Park, FL, 33311; West Palm Beach Office: 5725 Corporate Way, Ste 208, West Palm Beach, FL, 33407.
This judicial decision sparked controversy regarding the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches of government and the balance of power between the two. After the ruling, Hastings immediately referred to himself as the “unimpeachable federal judge,” as reported in the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. Hastings then said that regardless of the outcome of the ruling, he had no interest in returning to the bench. On January 13, 1993, after he was elected and given the go-ahead to serve, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the important duty of impeaching and removing federal officials belonged solely to the Congress and is not subject to judicial review. The ruling upheld the impeachment of Hastings.
In 1990, Hastings attempted a political comeback. His bid for Florida’s Secretary of State met with defeat when former newspaperman, Jim Minter, captured the Democratic nomination for that position. Undaunted by this defeat, Hastings decided to throw his hat back into the political arena when the 23rd district was redrawn and, in his words, became a “minority access” district.
In a runoff election, Hastings won the Democratic Party nomination to run for Congress. Hastings felt that a black with high name recognition could beat the progressive white Democrat, State Representative Lois Frankel who, it was said, would run a well-financed campaign. He was right about the high name recognition—not only because of his impeachment but because of his years on the bench and in private practice. During his campaign, Miami Herald political editor Tom Fiedler said of Hastings in the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, “Where do you start in attempting to characterize Alcee Hastings? Without question he is charming, inspirational, brilliant, gutsy, and charismatic. He is also profane, audacious, proud, brazen, and pardon me for saying it, slick.”
In his campaign against Frankel, Hastings called her a wealthy outsider. He accused her of being a white opportunist in a district drawn to elect a minority candidate. He said her claim that she understood the district was like trying “to convince B’nai B’rith that some sympathetic Arab millionaire ought to be prime minister of Israel,” as quoted in the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report. Hastings beat Frankel at the polls by 15 percent and went on to claim victory over his Republican opponent, real estate developer, Ed Fielding by a 35 percent margin in the heavily Democratic district.
When Hastings entered the House of Representatives as a freshman in January of 1993, he made history by returning as an elected official to a body that impeached him four years earlier. About 60 percent of his new colleagues voted to charge him with “high crimes and misdemeanors” in 1988. Even after the election to office, the question rose as to whether Hastings should be allowed to serve. According to the Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, while the Constitution holds that impeachment extends to disqualification from office, the Senate must take a separate vote to invoke the act of barring an impeached federal official from serving in another federal capacity. No such vote was taken in Hastings’s case. Therefore, a U.S. District Court ruled on January 4, 1993 that Hastings could not be prevented from holding another federal office.
When Hastings entered office he brought with him a liberal agenda. During his campaign he vowed to work to eliminate racism, ageism, anti-Semitism, and sexism. Further, he promised to work toward providing every American a decent job with job security; comparable pay for comparable work; and universal healthcare for every American. Other priorities for the freshman Congressman were increasing the availability of funds for college education for all young people, affordability and availability of daycare, and protecting the environment without hampering business development.
Unlike other new members of Congress, Hastings did not rush to embrace a balanced budget. In a report by the Congressional Quarterly Weekly, Hastings was quoted as saying, “It’s a feel-good rhetorical statement designed for campaigns.” Hastings also opposes term limits. “Term limits make no sense unless mandated by a Constitutional Amendment affecting all states” he opined in the same report.
Upon entering the House, Hastings took a seat on the Foreign Affairs and the Merchant Marine and Fisheries committees. He carefully avoided taking a seat on the House Judiciary Committee, the panel that drew up the articles of impeachment against him. It was not out of contempt for the committee that he chose not to take a seat according to Hastings, but rather his reluctance as a junior member on a committee that drafts laws for the federal judiciary where he would be the only member having firsthand knowledge of how those laws would affect the judiciary. Hastings now serves on the International Relations Committee and its Subcommittee on Africa and the Science Committee and its Subcommittee on Basic Research and Space and Aeronautics. He is a member of the Democratic Steering Committee, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Human Rights Caucus.
The Congressman’s record showed that he supported legislation to cut federal spending, create small business tax incentives, expand the Earned Income Tax Credit, provide job training and reeducation to displaced workers, ban assault weapons, fund Head Start and other educational programs, make Social Security an independent agency, and provide Family and Medical leave to all workers. Further, he amended the Foreign Aid Authorization bill to include language to urge the Arab League to repeal the Economic Boycott against Israel; introduced legislation enabling employees the use of circumstantial evidence, in cases where the employee alleged discriminatory employment practices by the employer, where no direct evidence of such practices were available. Specific to his constituency and home state of Florida, Hastings worked to secure federal funding for state roads and highways and authorized legislation to protect the Everglades.
In discussing his vision for America with his constituency, Hastings holds that America should be the only superpower with a public school system envied worldwide. He told his constituents that he will continue to support legislation that will protect minorities (religious, racial, gender, and others) from discrimination, increase the availability of student loans, provide job training programs, and encourage the business sector to be internationally competitive. He has gone on record as saying that this country’s lawmakers need to be more accessible to those that they represent. They should have web sites (which Hastings does), toll free numbers, and sufficient staff to investigate and detect fraud and abuse within the government.
Hastings’s views on illegal immigration are strong given that he is a congressman from Florida. He felt that the United States must do a much better job at sealing the borders and stopping illegal immigration. He supported increasing the Immigration Naturalization Service and the Coast Guard funding and personnel, especially in Florida. Hastings believed that illegal immigrants should not enjoy the same benefits as American citizens.
In 1994 when the Democrats lost control of the Congress, Hastings was making a bid to head the Congressional Black Caucus. He felt his fiery defiance of the system is what the caucus needed to fend off the Republicans’ assault on liberal programs according to a Newsweek article. Had the Democrats kept control of the Congress, the article went on to say, Hastings’s candidacy would have been a joke. In light of the Republican majority, Hastings’s attracted votes from newer, and angrier caucus members.
Traditionally, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus is chosen by seniority making New Jersey Democrat Donald Payne the next natural successor to the chair. Payne, though well-liked, was a soft-spoken man with a reputation for compromising. A position some Black Caucus members felt would be detrimental to their cause. However, Hastings’s election would fuel the fires and make him and the Black Caucus an irresistible target for the Republican Party. According to Carol M. Swain—a professor of public policy at Princeton and the author of a book about black representation—quoted in a Newsweek article, “The worst thing they could do is have somebody tainted by scandal out front competing with Newt.” Hastings, unapologetic about his background, claimed that Congress would never have impeached him had he been white. In the end, the Congressional Black Caucus members chose conciliation over confrontation when they elected New Jersey Representative Donald Payne as the chairman. Hastings was defeated by a vote of 23-15.
Speaking on violent crime recently, the Congressman told the 20th Annual Training Conference Association of Black Narcotic Agents in Ft. Lauderdale as reported in Jet magazine, “If it is true, as many say, that young black males are the source of the drug trade in the inner cities, then why isn’t there an equal number of black agents?” Adding, “This is not to suggest that only black agents can penetrate crime in black neighborhoods, but let’s face it, it makes a whole lot of good sense when you’re talking about undercover operations.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, only four percent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s special agents are black, and less than one percent are narcotics agents. In his pledge to fight for minorities in job placement, Hastings told the Association in Jet that he intended to alleviate the significant imbalance and pledged to seek additional funding at the federal level for the recruitment of additional black narcotics agents.
In spite of his flamboyant reputation, Hastings made a smooth transition into the tradition-bound House of Representatives. His aim was to get things done and he directed his course to keep his campaign promises to his constituency. According to Hastings, there are two routes to take as a legislator—to work through the committees and gain stature or be a maverick and let the dust fly in your wake. He felt it would be unfair to his constituents to be a maverick.
Hastings believed that his success should be measured by his constituents, colleagues, and the legislation he introduces and supports. If he has worked well within the system, Hastings believed that the congressional leadership will recognize his success and hard work and reward him accordingly. If his constituents are satisfied that he has represented them well, helped solve their problems, listened to their complaints, responded to their requests, then he will be successful in their eyes and in his. If he is able to effectively implement his ideas through legislation, he will have met the criteria for a successful legislator.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, September 19, 1992; November 7, 1992; January 9, 1993; January 16, 1993.
Chicago Tribune, October 3, 1990; January 14, 1993.
Jet, August 11, 1997
Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Washington Bureau, December 14, 1994.
New York Times, May 20, 1988; September 19, 1992; January 14, 1993.
Newsweek, December 19, 1994.
Time, September 26, 1992.
Washington Post, October 21, 1989; October 3, 1990; January 6, 1993.
Congressional Directory, 104th Congress, 1995-1996, United States Government Printing Office, 1995.
Who’s Who in America, 50th edition, 1996.
—Paula M. Morin
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