WASHINGTON (CN) — Congress voted to impeach and remove the first African-American appointed to the federal bench 20 years ago.
The ousted judge, Alcee Hastings, now a Florida Democratic congressman, is set to take to the House floor Wednesday night to cast his vote to impeach the third president in U.S. history.
The Senate voted in 1989 to convict Hastings on eight of 11 articles of impeachment but stopped short of disqualifying the judge from "any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States,” as outlined in Article II of the Constitution.
Hastings is currently serving his 14th term in Congress and sits as vice-chair of the House Rules Committee, which laid the groundwork for Wednesday’s debate on articles to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The congressman, now 83, left little doubt Tuesday night during the committee hearing that he plans to cast his vote to impeach.
“The simple fact of the matter is that my colleagues have determined that they are going to go down the road of distraction and are not going to discuss the facts in this matter,” Hastings said of House Republicans.
The first U.S. official impeached and tried after being acquitted in criminal court, Hastings’ long-winding legal battle — eventually booting him from his seat on the bench — began with accusations he solicited a $150,000 bribe as a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in exchange for passing a lenient sentence to criminal defendants found guilty of racketeering.
His legal team at the criminal trial called the perjury and bribery charges a prosecution motivated by race, not facts. After Hastings’ acquittal, two federal judges filed a complaint taken up first in the Eleventh Circuit, where a 27-judge panel certified that Hastings had "engaged in conduct which might constitute grounds for impeachment.”
After a series of congressional investigations, the House would vote 413-3 to approve 17 articles of impeachment, narrowed in the Senate to 11 articles, including various false statements from Hasting made during his Florida criminal trial.
The judge-turned-defendant cried double jeopardy when the Senate took up the case more than six years after his acquittal. The congressman’s unusual route to Capitol Hill stands as a strange chapter in impeachment history.
Hastings’ congressional bio makes no mention of the impeachment that unfolded just three years before he was elected to the House of Representatives.
“Known to many as ‘judge,’ Alcee Hastings has distinguished himself as an attorney, civil rights activist, judge, and now member of Congress,” Hastings’ website states.
Only 15 federal judges have been impeached. But Hastings falls into the slimmer pool of eight impeached judges who were convicted and removed from office.
In sharp contrast to the vote to impeach Trump, set to fall on party lines, Hastings’ impeachment was a bipartisan affair.
Ross Garber, a Tulane law professor who focuses on impeachment and political investigations, said in cases brought in the halls of Congress against federal judges, lawmakers demonstrate firmer bipartisanship compared to politically explosive presidential impeachments.
“There are potentially legitimate arguments that the qualitative and quantitative standards that must be met to impeach a president are higher than that necessary to impeach a federal judge although...the Constitution doesn’t distinguish between the two,” Garber said.
With no cameras in federal courts, and few Americans ever having to file a case, Garber said “there tends not to be that much insight into what is happening in federal courts or who those judges are.”
The result, he said, is the majority of the American public lack an understanding that impeachment can unseat not only a president, but also gavel-wielding officials.
Hastings’ press secretary Katrina Martell, and members of his legal team from the 1989 impeachment trial, did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.