Representative Alcee Hastings of Florida, a former civil rights lawyer and federal judge who served in Congress for nearly three decades and became the vice chairman of the House Rules Committee, died Tuesday morning. He was 84.
Mr. Hastings, a Democrat, had announced in 2019 that he had pancreatic cancer. His death was confirmed by his chief of staff, Lale Morrison.
“He lived a full life with an indelible fighting spirit dedicated to equal justice,” Mr. Hastings’s family said in a statement released by his office. “He believed that progress and change can only be achieved through recognizing and respecting the humanity of all mankind. He was never afraid to speak his mind and truly loved serving his constituents and his family.”
His death will narrow Democrats’ already-slim House majority until a special election can be held to fill the seat. His district — Florida’s 20th, which includes Black communities around Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach as well as a huge area around Lake Okeechobee — is reliably Democratic.
Mr. Hastings was born September 5, 1936, in Altamonte Springs, Fla. He attended Fisk University and earned a law degree from Florida A&M University.
He began his career as a civil rights lawyer, including fighting to desegregate schools in Broward County, Fla. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, making him the state’s first Black federal judge, according to his congressional biography.
Congress impeached him and removed him from the bench in 1989 on charges of bribery and perjury, stemming from a criminal trial six years earlier in which he had been acquitted. In 1992, a federal court ruled that the Senate had improperly removed him, and he won election to the House shortly after.
He is survived by his wife, Patricia Williams, and four children.
With Mr. Hastings’s death, there are now 218 Democrats and 211 Republicans in the House, with six seats vacant. One of those seats is expected to be filled next week by Julia Letlow, a Republican who won a special election in Louisiana after her husband, Representative-elect Luke Letlow, died of Covid-19.
In statements on Monday, Mr. Hastings’s congressional colleagues described him as a compassionate colleague and friend, but one who never shied away from political fights.
“He wasn’t afraid to use a little shame to press for change,” said Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat whose district borders his.
Representative Charlie Crist, who was a Republican governor of Florida before becoming a Democrat, said he had “long admired Congressman Hastings’s advocacy for Florida’s Black communities during a time when such advocacy was ignored at best and actively suppressed or punished at worst.”
When Mr. Hastings announced his cancer diagnosis in January 2019, he wrote that he had considered whether the disease would affect his ability to do his job. But after speaking with doctors, he said, “I have been convinced that this is a battle worth fighting, and my life is defined by fighting battles worth fighting.”
The Congressional Black Caucus said in a statement on Monday that he “never forgot where he came from and continued to fight up until his last breath.”
“Rest well, our dear brother,” the caucus said. “We’ll take it from here.”