On a vote of 413 to 3, the House yesterday impeached U.S. District Court Judge Alcee L. Hastings of the southern district of Florida for high crimes and misdemeanors.
The House adopted the 17 articles of impeachment, which charge Hastings with conspiracy to receive a bribe in a 1981 criminal case, making false statements during his 1983 trial on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges and disclosing confidential information from an FBI wiretap.
Hastings, the 15th federal official to be impeached by the House since 1787, would become only the sixth to be removed from office if he is convicted by a two-thirds vote after a Senate trial. That trial may not begin until next year.
The most recent such case was in 1986, when the Senate convicted and removed from office U.S. District Court Judge Harry E. Claiborne.
Speaking on the steps of the federal courthouse in Miami, Hastings called the House vote a "disgrace" and predicted he will be exonerated by the Senate. He said the House action was "a dark day for myself and the judicial process" and charged that many lawmakers had "voted with no knowledge of the voluminous record that has taken seven years to compile."
During a somber debate reflecting the gravity with which the House approaches its constitutional task, Judiciary Committee members outlined the findings of an investigation they said had revealed conclusive evidence that Hastings had abused his office and undermined public confidence in the federal judiciary.
"Any impeachment is a regrettable event, but under the Constitution our responsibility is clear," said Rep. Peter W. Rodino Jr. (D-N.J.), who is retiring this year after 15 years as Judiciary Committee chairman, a tenure that included its 1974 recommendation that President Richard M. Nixon be impeached.
The emotional high point of the debate came when Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the criminal justice subcommittee that conducted the impeachment inquiry, flatly rejected charges that the Hastings case was a racially motivated attack on one of the few blacks appointed to the federal bench in the past decade.
Conyers, who also is black, conceded that he was initially suspicious that Hastings was being singled out for "political harassment and outright racism" because he is "a charismatic and outspoken black leader."
But, Conyers concluded, the Judiciary Committee investigation had convinced him that "the problems created here were created by Judge Hastings himself."
"Black public officials must be held to the same standard as every officeholder," Conyers said. "A lower standard would be patronizing; a higher standard would be racist . . . . Race should never insulate an individual from the consequences of wrongful conduct."
The heart of the case against Hastings stems from his 1981 indictment on charges that he conspired with a Washington attorney, William A. Borders Jr., to solicit a $150,000 bribe from two defendants in a federal racketeering case. Hastings was charged with soliciting the bribe and agreeing that the defendants would serve no jail time and would not have to forfeit $845,000 in property.
Hastings was acquitted by a jury Feb. 4, 1983, but the next month two other federal judges filed a misconduct charge against him. That charge led to a recommendation by the Judicial Conference of the United States and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist that the House conduct an impeachment inquiry.
Though the bulk of the inquiry concerned the conspiracy case and Hastings' conduct during his trial, the Judiciary Committee uncovered new evidence that Hastings in 1985 had disclosed FBI wiretap information that compromised federal investigations into union corruption at the Port of Miami and possibly illegal attempts to obtain zoning changes for an amusement operation in Dade County, Fla.
The dissenting votes were cast by Reps. Gus Savage (D-Ill.), Mervyn M. Dymally (D-Calif.) and Edward R. Roybal (D-Calif.).