Democrat Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) is one of only eight federal judges in American history who have been impeached by the House of Representatives, convicted by the U.S. Senate, and removed from office.
No federal judge has ever been impeached over an alleged incident for which there is no complainant that a single purported witness, without any supporting contemporaneous evidence, claims took place 34 years prior to the judge’s confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Hastings, a graduate of Florida A & M Law School, was appointed federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. He was “[i]mpeached by the U.S. House of Representatives August 3, 1988, on charges of perjury and conspiring to solicit a bribe; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office, October 20, 1989,” according to the Federal Judicial Center.
Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution clearly specifies the grounds by which a President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United State” (a category that includes federal judges) can be impeached and convicted:
The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
Members of the House of Representatives and the United States Senate readily concluded that Hastings’ conduct met these standards for conviction and removal from office, as The Washington Post reported on October 21, 1989:
U.S. District Judge Alcee L. Hastings was convicted by the Senate yesterday of engaging in a “corrupt conspiracy” to extort a $150,000 bribe in a case before him, marking the first time a federal official has been impeached and removed from office for a crime he had been acquitted of by a jury.
In a solemn and tense session, the Senate voted 69 to 26 — five votes more than needed for conviction — to find Hastings guilty of the major charge against him and strip the 53-year-old jurist of his lifetime, $89,500-a-year position. . .
Four senators did not vote yesterday because they were members of the House when it voted 413 to 3 in August 1988 to impeach Hastings. Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) was not present. Under the Constitution, conviction required the votes of two-thirds of the senators present, or at least 64 in this case.
Hastings was indicted on the bribery charges in 1981, but acquitted by a jury in 1983, as the United States Senate website explains:
In 1981, a federal grand jury indicted Judge Alcee L. Hastings, appointed to the federal district court in 1979, along with his friend William A. Borders, a Washington, D.C. lawyer. Hastings was charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice for soliciting a $150,000 bribe in return for reducing the sentences of two mob-connected felons convicted in Hastings’ court. A year after Borders was convicted of conspiracy, the result of an FBI sting effort, Hastings’s case came before the criminal court. Despite Borders’ conviction, and the fact that Hastings had indeed reduced the sentences of the two felons, he was acquitted in a criminal court in 1983 and returned to his judicial post.
Subsequently, suspicions arose that Hastings had lied and falsified evidence during the trial in order to obtain an acquittal. A special committee of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals began a new probe into the Hastings case. The resulting three-year investigation ended with the panel concluding that Hastings did indeed commit perjury, tamper with evidence, and conspire to gain financially by accepting bribes. The panel recommended further action to the U.S. Judicial Conference, which, in turn, informed the House of Representatives on March 17, 1987, that Judge Alcee Hastings should be impeached and removed from office.
On August 3, 1988, following an investigation by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, the House of Representatives voted 413 to 3 to adopt H. Res. 499, approving 17 articles of impeachment against Hastings, the greatest number of articles in any impeachment proceeding to date. Charges included conspiracy, bribery, perjury, falsifying documents, thwarting a criminal investigation, and undermining the public confidence “in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” The Senate received the articles on August 9, 1988.
Just three years after his impeachment, conviction, and removal from the federal bench, Hastings was elected in November 1992 as a Democrat to represent Florida’s 23rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He has subsequently been re-elected to 13 additional terms. Due to redistricting, he now represents Florida’s 20th Congressional District.
Now 83-years-old and recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Hastings easily won his 2018 Democrat primary and was re-elected in the 2018 midterm elections without a Republican opponent on the ballot.
Hastings’ official biography on his Congressional website makes no mention of his impeachment, conviction, and removal from office as a federal judge:
Known to many as “Judge,” Alcee Hastings has distinguished himself as an attorney, civil rights activist, judge, and now Member of Congress. Appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, he became the first African-American Federal Judge in the State of Florida, and served in that position for 10 years. Since his election to Congress as the first African-American from Florida since the post-Civil War period, Congressman Hastings has been an outspoken advocate for Floridians and our nation as a whole. Throughout his lifetime, Congressman Hastings has championed the rights of minorities, women, the elderly, children, and immigrants.
The infamous club of which Hastings is a member includes seven other federal judges, as the Federal Judicial Center notes:
John Pickering, U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on March 2, 1803, on charges of mental instability and intoxication on the bench; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office on March 12, 1804.
West H. Humphreys, U.S. District Court for the Middle, Eastern, and Western Districts of Tennessee.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, May 6, 1862, on charges of refusing to hold court and waging war against the U.S. government; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office, June 26, 1862.
Robert W. Archbald, Commerce Court and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, July 11, 1912, on charges of improper business relationship with litigants; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office, January 13, 1913.
Halsted L. Ritter, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, March 2, 1936, on charges of favoritism in the appointment of bankruptcy receivers and practicing law while sitting as a judge; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office, April 17, 1936.
Harry E. Claiborne, U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, July 22, 1986, on charges of income tax evasion and of remaining on the bench following criminal conviction; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office, October 9, 1986
Walter L. Nixon, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, May 10, 1989, on charges of perjury before a federal grand jury; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office, November 3, 1989.
G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, March 11, 2010, on charges of accepting bribes and making false statements under penalty of perjury; Convicted by the U.S. Senate and removed from office, December 8, 2010.
One Supreme Court Justice, Samuel Chase, was impeached by the House of Representatives “on charges of arbitrary and oppressive conduct of trials,” but was acquitted by the U.S. Senate in 1805.
Three other federal judges were impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate:
James H. Peck, U.S. District Court for the District of Missouri.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 24, 1830, on charges of abuse of the contempt power; Acquitted by the U.S. Senate on January 31, 1831
Charles Swayne, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, December 13, 1904, on charges of abuse of contempt power and other misuses of office; Acquitted by the U.S. Senate February 27, 1905.
Harold Louderback, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, February 24, 1933, on charges of favoritism in the appointment of bankruptcy receivers; Acquitted by the U.S. Senate on May 24, 1933.
Another three federal judges were impeached by the House, but resigned from the bench before they were tried by the Senate:
Mark W. Delahay, U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, February 28, 1873, on charges of intoxication on the bench; Resigned from office, December 12, 1873, before opening of trial in the U.S. Senate.
George W. English, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Illinois.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, April 1, 1926, on charges of abuse of power; Resigned from office November 4, 1926; Senate Court of Impeachment adjourned to December 13, 1926, when, on request of the House manager, impeachment proceedings were dismissed.
Samuel B. Kent, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
Impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, June 19, 2009, on charges of sexual assault, obstructing and impeding an official proceeding, and making false and misleading statements; Resigned from office, June 30, 2009. On July 20, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to a resolution not to pursue further the articles of impeachment, and on July 22, 2009, the Senate, sitting as a court of impeachment, dismissed the articles
All told, fifteen federal judges have been impeached by the House of Representatives since the Constitution was ratified. Eight were convicted by the Senate, four were acquitted by the Senate, and three resigned before their Senate trials came to a vote.