On August 3, 1988, the House of Representatives voted on a resolution, co-sponsored by Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, to impeach Alcee Hastings, the federal judge in Florida accused of conspiring to take a bribe. On that day 18 years ago, some of the Democrats who are today preparing to take power in the House were relatively new to the job; others were, even then, veterans who had served in Congress for years. For both, the vote was a rarity; Hastings was just the 10th judge in U.S. history to face impeachment.
One of the newcomers to the House was the future Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been in office a little more than a year. She voted to impeach Hastings.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, the future Majority Leader, also voted to impeach. And so did the lawmakers who will soon chair powerful House committees. Rep. Conyers, now in line to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. Charles Rangel, soon to chair the Ways and Means Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. Barney Frank, in line to head the Financial Services Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. Henry Waxman, next chair of the Government Reform Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. John Dingell, in line to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. George Miller, soon to head the Education and the Workforce Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. David Obey, in line to chair the Appropriations Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. Ike Skelton, next chair of the Armed Services Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. John Spratt, next in line for the Budget Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. Howard Berman, next head of the Ethics Committee, voted to impeach. Rep. Tom Lantos, in line to chair the International Relations Committee, voted to impeach. And Rep. Louise Slaughter, next chair of the Rules Committee, voted to impeach.
So did other well-known Democratic lawmakers like Rep. John Lewis, Rep. (and later Sen.) Barbara Boxer, Rep. (and later Sen.) Charles Schumer, Rep. (and later Sen.) Richard Durbin, Rep. Ed Markey, Rep. Ron Dellums, Rep. Julian Dixon, and Rep. Richard Gephardt.
In fact, just about everybody in the House voted to impeach Judge Hastings: the vote was 413 to 3. (Just for record, the three who voted against impeachment were Reps. Gus Savage, Mervyn Dymally, and Edward Roybal.)
A few of those members have left the House, moved on to the Senate, or died. But the ones who remain — the ones who now have the seniority to hold influential positions — have another tie to Hastings: They’ve been his colleagues for more than a dozen years. Hastings, who was convicted in the Senate but not barred from holding future office, ran for Congress himself in 1992, winning a seat from Florida’s 23rd District. And now, because incoming Speaker Pelosi has apparently ruled out the appointment of next-in-line Rep. Jane Harman to chair the House Intelligence Committee, Hastings appears to be headed toward the top position on that panel — one of the most sensitive and responsible posts on Capitol Hill.
The question of whether Hastings should be put in charge of the Intelligence Committee is not as clear-cut as the vote to impeach him years ago. For one thing, these days the 43-member Congressional Black Caucus is solidly behind Hastings, who is black. That’s a much different situation from 1988, when Conyers, a founding member of the CBC, voted against Hastings, along with fellow founders Rangel, Dellums, William Clay, and Louis Stokes. (In fact, all the founders of the CBC who were in the House in 1988 voted to impeach Hastings.)
Late last week, the CBC sent a letter to Pelosi affirming the group’s support for Hastings “The CBC sent a letter to Ms. Pelosi just to let her know that the CBC is behind Mr. Hastings 100 percent,” CBC spokesman Myra Dandridge told National Review Online Friday. CBC officials declined to release the letter itself, but Dandridge said it was sent after CBC members discussed the Hastings issue at their weekly meeting on Wednesday.
On the other hand, the 37-member Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate Democrats, has sent a letter of its own to Pelosi, this one in support of Harman (a Blue Dog member herself). “She exemplifies all the reasons the American people instilled their trust in our party on November 7th to protect them here and abroad,” the letter said. “We believe she is supremely qualified for the job.”
The decision is Pelosi’s to make; the head of the Intelligence Committee is chosen by the Speaker. But the Hastings case is not just a problem for Pelosi. It could present an agonizing choice for other Democrats who were in the House in 1988 and went on the record in favor of Hastings’s impeachment. If they support Hastings, they will likely feel some pressure to explain why they once believed him unfit for office but now feel he is the right choice to occupy such a critical position.
The pressure might be particularly acute for Conyers, who not only voted for Hastings’s impeachment but also chaired the House Judiciary subcommittee that investigated the case, co-sponsored the impeachment resolution, and argued for Hastings’s conviction as an impeachment manager in the Senate trial. As such, Conyers left a long record explaining his belief that Hastings was guilty.
“No one could have been more skeptical than I at the start of this process,” Conyers told the Senate during the trial. “No one more anxious to ensure that this man be neither penalized for his race or insulated by his race, from the consequences of wrongful conduct. No one was more predisposed to believe the best of Judge Hastings and his case and to doubt his accusers. I said so.”
But as chairman of the subcommittee, Conyers continued, he examined the evidence that Hastings conspired with a close friend, a man named William Borders, to solicit money from defendants in return for favorable treatment in Hastings’s court. And that evidence changed Conyers’s mind. “I heard some evidence that forced me to reevaluate my position, the evidence presented, not only in my subcommittee but over here as a manager,” Conyers said. “I have heard this thing twice. And what I have seen and heard and studied and listened to and reread and argued with my staff counsel and back and forth has only matured my conclusion that, measured by any standard, Judge Hastings’ guilt has been established and Congress has an obligation to protect the integrity of the judiciary.”
“There is an enormous amount of evidence that makes no sense at all unless Judge Hastings conspired with William Borders and lied at the trial,” Conyers concluded. “It is the mass of evidence that makes the case, but it may be just one of the undisputed facts that convinces you that Judge Hastings is not to be believed on this and many, many other facts made both in and outside of this legal process.”
“Justice and the integrity of our government depend on the importance of these impeachment proceedings, and they argue that the judge should be removed from the bench.”
— Byron York, NR’s White House correspondent, is the author of the book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President — and Why They’ll Try Even Harder Next Time.