By CBSMiami.com Team

FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) – Fiercely liberal longtime Florida Congressman Alcee Hastings, who made history during his career, died Tuesday at the age of 84.

Hastings was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in 2018. In recent days, he had been in hospice care,” according to the Sun-Sentinel.

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First elected in 1992, Hastings served 15 consecutive terms in Congress, he represented District 20 which includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach Counties. He was the first African-American to represent Florida in Congress since the post-Civil War period.

Like so many other moves in Hastings’ life, his path to Congress had been a high-profile fight. He won the seat after two bitter runoffs fueled by accusations of racism in the largely Black district.

At one point, in his heated race against Lois Frankel, he snapped to a reporter for The Palm Beach Post, “The bitch is a racist.” He went on to win, though, and was easily re-elected time after time.

Frankel earned her own ticket to Congress 20 years later as a Democratic colleague of Hastings. She called him a friend Tuesday.

“He was a fierce fighter for civil rights and racial justice, and a great partner in Congress when it came to serving south Florida,” Frankel said in a statement.

Hastings was the longest-serving member of Florida’s congressional delegation. He was re-elected in 2020 with nearly 79 percent of the vote.

Born in Altamonte Springs, he attended Florida’s public schools and graduated from Fisk University in 1958. He earned his law degree from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

After receiving his degree, Hastings moved to Fort Lauderdale and partnered with W. George Allen in 1964 where he fought against racial injustice. They took on civil rights cases and desegregating Broward schools, according to the Sun-Sentinel.

He made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1970.

Hastings was appointed by then-Gov. Reubin Askew to be a Broward Circuit Court judge in 1977.

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Two years later, Hastings became the first African-American federal judge in the State of Florida. He was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter and served in that position for 10 years until he was impeached and removed from office.

From the start, his career was marked by controversy. His harsh criticism of President Ronald Reagan, his appearance at a rally in 1984 for then-presidential candidate Jesse Jackson and other moves considered unusual for a sitting federal judge raised questions about his impartiality. But Hastings insisted he was doing nothing wrong.

“Outside the courtroom, I speak out because I’m a citizen and I have the interests of a great number people of this country at heart,” he said. “I think it’s better to have public officials express themselves. I don’t think being a judge means I’m neutered.”

During his career on the bench and in Congress Hastings championed the rights of minorities, women, the elderly, children, and immigrants. He held senior posts on the House Rules Committee and the Helsinki Commission, which works with other countries on a variety of multinational issues.

But his impeachment remained a nagging footnote.

It was repeatedly invoked in news accounts and seen as derailing his ambitions for a greater leadership role.

“That seems to be the only thing of significance to people who write,” Hastings told The Associated Press in 2013, predicting that the impeachment would be in the lead paragraph of his obituary.

Under Florida law, Gov. Ron DeSantis will call a special election in the coming months to fill the District 20 vacancy.

Hastings’ death, meanwhile, lowers the Democrats’ majority to a scant 218-211 in the House. Their narrow margin is forcing the party to muster nearly unanimous votes to push legislation through the chamber and is bolstering Republican hopes for capturing House control in the 2022 elections.

There are six vacancies – four from seats that were held by Democrats, two by Republicans.

The seat won by Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., who died from COVID-19 before being sworn into office, will go to his widow, Julia Letlow, who won a special election. The rest are expected to be retained by the same parties that had held them.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

CBSMiami.com Team