Alcee Hastings was born on September 5, 1936 in Altamonte Springs, Forida. He earned a BS degree in zoology and botany from Fisk University in 1958, and a JD from Florida A&M University in 1963. From 1963-79 he worked as an attorney.
President Jimmy Carter appointed Hastings as a judge for the Southern District of Florida in 1979. But two years later Hastings found himself embroiled in a corruption scandal, indicted on charges of conspiracy to accept a bribe. Despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Hastings was acquitted by a jury in 1983 because his alleged accomplice refused to testify (and was incarcerated as a result). Hastings, meanwhile, claimed that the charges against him were racially motivated.
Not long after Hastings’ acquittal, however, three federal judges took the unusual step of calling on the House of Representatives to impeach him on the criminal charges. A report compiled by a special Investigating Committee in 1986 found clear evidence that Hastings had covered up his role in the bribery scheme. In 1987 a panel of 27 federal judges recommended impeachment. The following year, the Democrat-led House of Representatives voted 413-to-3 to impeach Hastings on 17 counts including bribery and perjury. And in 1989 a Democrat-controlled Senate convicted Hastings and removed him from his judgeship, making him only the sixth federal judge to be impeached and removed from office in U.S. history.
In 1990 Hastings, a Democrat, ran unsuccessfully for the office of Florida Secretary of State.
In 1991 Hastings filed suit in an effort to overturn his Senate conviction. The following year a federal court remanded the conviction back to the Senate on a technicality. Announcing defiantly that he was not “afraid of the system,” Hastings asserted that the charges against him were a function of “institutional racism.”
Also in 1992, Hastings was elected to represent the overwhelmingly Democratic, mostly black, newly-created 23rd Congressional District of Florida. “I bring with me the added notoriety of being impeached and removed by the same body that I now get to serve in,” Hastings boasted at the time. In January 1993, just before Hastings was sworn in as a congressman, the Supreme Court ruled that courts had no authority to review Senate impeachment trials — thereby effectively upholding Hastings’ impeachment.
Hastings would continue to serve as a U.S. congressman from Florida until his death in 2021. His campaigns were endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and he was a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In 1995 Hastings supported the “Living Wage, Jobs for All Act” introduced by Rep. Ron Dellums, a DSA member. Other supporters of this legislation included John Conyers, Lane Evans, Bob Filner, Maurice Hinchey, Jim McDermott, Cynthia McKinney, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Major Owens, Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, and Nydia Velazquez.
In 2004 Hastings was the subject of three separate ethics investigations by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, the Florida Elections Commission, and the Federal Election Commission.
Also in 2004, Hastings was elected to a two-year term as Parliamentary Assembly president of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE), an international body that monitors elections in developing democracies.
PoliticalMoneyLine, a watchdog group that tracks money in national politics, pointed out in 2004 that Hastings ranked second (after Rep. Douglas Bereuter of Nebraska) among American lawmakers in the number of taxpayer-funded trips he had taken during the preceding ten years. All told, Hastings had taken 57 trips to 116 countries—at a price tag of over $152,000, not including costs for staff or the use of military aircraft. Many of those trips were made on behalf of the OSCE.
Often accompanying Hastings in his travels was his “staff assistant,” reputed girlfriend Vanessa Griddine, who was paid more than the congressman’s chief of staff. Meanwhile, Patricia Williams—yet another Hastings “staff assistant” with suspected romantic ties to the lawmaker—was paid as much as $129,000 per year. Williams had represented Hastings in both his 1983 bribery trial and his 1989 impeachment hearings. Despite having been disbarred in 1992 for “mishandling client funds,” she was still owed between $500,000 and $1 million in legal fees by Hastings. A 300-page report published in 2012 by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington indicated that Hastings ranked #1 out of 435 House Members in salaries and fees paid to relatives and/or friends. By that time, Hastings had paid his girlfriend a total of $622,574. (These large payouts to Williams would continue for many more years. In March 2017, the Washington Free Beacon reported: “Rep. Alcee Hastings continues to pay his longtime girlfriend the maximum congressional salary of $168,411, and has paid her nearly $2.4 million in salary since 2000…. Hastings also employs his girlfriend’s daughter and the wife of a former staffer who was previously convicted of money laundering.”)
In the early to mid-2000s, Hastings denounced the U.S. War in Iraq as “unjustified.” He also accused the Bush administration of having engaged in the “pre-meditated fabrication of intelligence” so as to create a pretext for military action. In addition, Hastings cast votes against the Patriot Act and against the warrantless domestic surveillance of American citizens with suspected terrorism ties.
When militant Islamists in 2006 demanded the execution of Danish cartoonists who had publicly lampooned the prophet Mohammed, Hastings was sympathetic to their outrage, saying: “The cartoons are not only offensive and untrue, they debase the marketplace of ideas in the name of free speech. This is abhorrent and should be denounced as such. A responsible press should report the news, not incite hate or inflame hostility. In this instance, the publishers of these newspapers have failed miserably on both counts…. I reject totally the inferences made in these cartoons and beseech the press to stop running them.”
At a Washington, D.C. conference sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council on September 24, 2008, Hastings said: “If Sarah Palin isn’t enough of a reason for you to get over whatever your problem is with Barack Obama, then you damn well had better pay attention. Anybody toting guns and stripping moose don’t care too much about what they do with Jews and blacks. So, you just think this through.”
In May 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that Hastings in 2008 had spent $24,730 in taxpayer money to lease a luxury Lexus hybrid sedan.
In March 2010, Hastings defended the Democrats’ aggressive approach to passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), saying: “I wish that I had been there when Thomas Edison made the remark that I think applies here: ‘There ain’t no rules around here, we’re trying to accomplish something.’ And therefore, when the deal goes down, all this talk about rules, we make them up as we go along.”
On March 7, 2011, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit against Hastings on behalf of Winsome Packer, who had worked for Hastings during 2008-10, when the congressman was chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Said the lawsuit:
“For over two years, from January 2008 through February 19, 2010, Ms. Packer was forced to endure unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching by Mr. Hastings…. Although Ms. Packer repeatedly rejected Mr. Hastings’ sexual attention and repeatedly complained about the harassment to the Commission Staff Director, Fred Turner, Mr. Hastings refused to stop sexually harassing her. Rather, Mr. Hastings and Mr. Turner began to retaliate against Ms. Packer–including making threats of termination–because she continued to object to Mr. Hastings’ conduct.”
In November 2012, Hastings was a member of the host committee for “Leading with Love,” an event celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Marxist-led National Domestic Workers Alliance.
At President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2016, Hastings brought Nezar Hamze, the CEO and Regional Operations Director of the Florida statewide chapter of the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), as his special guest.
During a February 2015 House committee meeting, Hastings stated that Texas’s refusal to join Obamacare’s exchanges proved that it was “a crazy state.” When Texas Republican Rep. Michael Burgess took exception to what he had said, Hastings refused to apologize.
In December 2017, Roll Call reported that the Treasury Department had paid $220,000 in a previously undisclosed agreement to settle Winsome Packer’s aforementioned 2011 sexual harassment lawsuit against Hastings. When reporters asked Hastings to comment on the revelation, the congressman replied: “Until this evening, I had not seen the settlement agreement between the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Ms. Packer. This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made. I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer.”
When the Daily Caller in February 2018 contacted Hastings and a number of his fellow Congressional Black Caucus members to ask if they would be willing to publicly denounce the notorious Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Hastings was one of 20 who declined not only to denounce him, but also to issue any comment at all regarding his infamous anti-Semitic, anti-white rhetoric.
At an August 19, 2018 political rally in Sunshine, Florida, Hastings repeated a joke he had heard from Ari Silver, the son of former Florida state legislator Barry Silver. Said Hastings: “I will tell you one joke. Do you know the difference between a crisis and a catastrophe? ‘A crisis is if Donald Trump falls into the Potomac River and can’t swim. And a catastrophe is anybody saves his ass.’”
For an overview of Hastings’ voting record on numerous key issues during his congressional career, click here.
Hastings died of pancreatic cancer on April 6, 2021.