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Emanuel Celler

Emanuel Celler
39th Dean of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 1965 – January 1973
Preceded by Carl Vinson
Succeeded by Wright Patman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th district
In office
March 4, 1923 – January 3, 1945
Preceded by Lester D. Volk
Succeeded by redistricted
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 15th district
In office
January 3, 1945 – January 3, 1953
Preceded by redistricted
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 11th district
In office
January 3, 1953 – January 3, 1963
Preceded by redistricted
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th district
In office
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1973
Preceded by redistricted
Succeeded by Mario Biaggi
Personal details
Born (1888-05-06)May 6, 1888
Brooklyn, New York
Died January 15, 1981(1981-01-15) (aged 92)
Brooklyn, New York
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Columbia College, Columbia University
Columbia University Law School
Occupation Lawyer

Emanuel Celler (May 6, 1888 – January 15, 1981) was an American politician from New York who served in the United States House of Representatives for almost 50 years, from March 1923 to January 1973. He was defeated in the 1972 primary becoming the most senior Representative ever at that time to lose a primary. He was a member of the Democratic Party.


  • Early life 1
  • Service in the House of Representatives 2
  • Final years 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Early life

Celler was born in Brooklyn, the son of Josephine (née Müller) and Henry H. Celler. All of his grandparents immigrated from Germany; his paternal grandparents and maternal grandmother were Jewish (his maternal grandfather was Catholic). A graduate of Boys High School, Columbia College, Columbia University and Columbia Law School,[1] he was the first Democrat to ever serve his district and was the fourth longest-serving congressman in history (only John Dingell, Jamie Whitten and Carl Vinson served longer) and the longest-serving member of either house of Congress in New York's history. A practicing lawyer before entering politics, he was particularly involved in issues relating to the judiciary and immigration.

Service in the House of Representatives

During his first twenty-two years in Congress, 1923–1945, Celler's Brooklyn and Queens-based district was numbered as New York's 10th congressional district. Redistricting in 1944 put him into the 15th district from 1945 to 1953; from 1953 to 1963 his district was the 11th and for his final decade in the United States Congress, 1963–1973, it was back to its 1922 designation as the 10th.

Celler made his first important speech on the House floor during consideration of the Johnson Immigration Act of 1924. Three years earlier, Congress had imposed a quota that limited immigration for persons of any nationality to 3 percent of that nationality present in the United States in 1910, with an annual admission limit of 356,000 immigrants. This national origin system was structured to preserve the ethnic and religious identity of the United States by reducing immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, thereby excluding many Jews, Catholics, Italians, and others. Celler was vehemently opposed to the Johnson act, which passed the isolationist Congress and was signed into law. Celler had found his cause and for the next four decades he vigorously spoke out in favor of eliminating the national origin quotas as a basis for immigration restriction.

In July 1939, a strongly worded letter from Celler to U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull helped set in motion an extremely prolonged process of 45 years that finally led in 1984, three years after Celler's death, to full, formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See.[2]

In the 1940s, Celler opposed both the isolationists and the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration by forcefully advocating that the United States relax immigration laws on an emergency basis to rescue those fleeing the Holocaust. In 1943, he called President Franklin D. Roosevelt's immigration policy "cold and cruel" and blasted the "glacier-like attitude" of the State Department.

In 1950, he was the lead House sponsor of legislation to strengthen the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914; the bill, written with Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, became the Celler-Kefauver Act, which closed key regulatory loopholes, empowering the government to prevent vertical mergers and conglomerate mergers which could limit competition.

In the early 1950s, Celler was the target of attacks by Sen. Joseph McCarthy. At the 1952 Democratic National Convention, Celler gave a speech in which he responded to Sen. McCarthy, saying:

"Deliberately and calculatedly, McCarthyism has set before itself the task of undermining the faith of the people in their Government. It has undertaken to sow suspicion everywhere, to set friend against friend and brother against brother. It deals in coercion and in intimidation, tying the hands of citizens and officials with the fear of the smear attack."

As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 1949 to 1973 (except for a break from when the Republicans controlled the House), Celler was involved in drafting and passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In January 1965, Celler proposed in the House of Representatives the Twenty-fifth Amendment, which clarifies an ambiguous provision of the Constitution regarding succession to the presidency. Also in 1965, he proposed and steered to passage the Hart-Celler Act, which eliminated national origins as a consideration for immigration. This was the culminating moment in Celler's 41-year fight to overcome restriction on immigration to the United States based on national origin. The US Gun Control Act of 1968 directly evolved from Celler's Bill H.R. 17735.[3][4]

In June 1972, Celler unexpectedly lost the Democratic primary to a somewhat more liberal Democrat, attorney Elizabeth Holtzman, who eked out a victory over the House of Representatives' most senior member based chiefly on his opposition to feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment. At the time, Celler was the most senior congressman to have been ousted in a primary. Even though Celler was on the ballot as the candidate of the Liberal Party, he decided not to campaign, allowing Holtzman to win easily the general election.

Final years

In his final eight years, from January 1973 to January 1981, Celler remained busy, speaking about immigration and myriad other topics that occupied his half-century of public service. During the Watergate scandal of 1973–74, he was a frequent guest on television and radio programs, discussing the hearings and the position of Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which he held for a record number of years. If not for his electoral loss a few months before, Celler, not Peter Rodino of New Jersey, would have been conducting the hearings. Celler was on good terms with Richard Nixon and in the early part of the hearings indicated that he would have taken a less adversarial position than Rodino.

In 1978, shortly after his 90th birthday, he had granted an interview in which he reflected on his life and the presidents he had known, from Warren G. Harding to Gerald Ford who, like Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, had been Celler's House of Representatives colleague.

Emanuel Celler died in his native Brooklyn at the age of 92.


  1. ^ CELLER, Emanuel - Biographical Information. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks Upon Signing the Gun Control Act of 1968. (1968-10-22). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  4. ^ Moral Controversies in American Politics - Raymond Tatalovich, Byron W. Daynes - Google Books. (1968-06-10). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.

External links

  • Emanuel Celler at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Bio of Celler at Jewish Virtual Library
  • (1953)You Never Leave BrooklynBio of Celler with excerpts from his speeches and his autobiography,
  • Passover 1943: A Congressman Who Spoke Out for Rescue by Dr. Rafael Medoff
  • Emanuel Celler biography
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Lester D. Volk
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
Andrew L. Somers
Preceded by
Thomas F. Burchill
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 15th congressional district

Succeeded by
John H. Ray
Preceded by
James J. Heffernan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 11th congressional district

Succeeded by
Eugene J. Keogh
Preceded by
Edna F. Kelly
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 10th congressional district

Succeeded by
Mario Biaggi
Political offices
Preceded by
Earl Michener (1st time), Chauncey Reed (2nd time)
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
1949–53, 1955–1973
Succeeded by
Chauncey Reed (1st time), Peter Rodino (2nd time)
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Carl Vinson
Dean of the House
Succeeded by
Wright Patman
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