Emanuel Celler

After reading a variety of things recently, I’m thinking that someone should write a biography of Congressman Emanuel Celler, the longtime Chair of the House Judiciary Committee who was one of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.  Consider the following:

1.  Celler was in the House for nearly 50 years (1923-1972) representing Brooklyn and chaired the Judiciary Committee off and on for more than 20 years.

2.  He was the most vocal opponent of the national (read racist) quota system for immigration that was established in the 1920s and repealed by his bill (the Hart-Celler Act), which is one of the landmarks of the 1960s.

3.  Celler was one of the few members of Congress who publicly raised the issue of rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.  He was also one of the toughest critics of McCarthyism in its time.

4.  He played a substantial role in the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and the 25th Amendment.

5.  He lost in a primary to Elizabeth Holtzman in 1972.  (Celler opposed the ERA)  Otherwise, he, rather than Peter Rodino, would have the chaired the impeachment inquiry into Richard Nixon.

Good subject for anyone who wants to take the time.

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5 Responses

  1. Dont forget the Celler-Kefauver Act of 1950 which tightened significantly the anti-merger provisions of the Clayton Act. Alas, the SC has very much weakened the law

  2. Peter Samson says:

    In fact, I am currently researching a biography of Emanuel Celler. He was indeed a fascinating and consequential figure. He also left a huge cache of papers (more than 600 boxes) at the Library of Congress, which is both a blessing and a curse to a biographer.

    Completion of my book is several years off, but it is encouraging to know that others see it as a worthy project.

    If anyone has information they wish to share about Celler, you can contact me at:

    Peter Samson
    1910 Wilson Lane, Apt. 202
    McLean, VA 22102

  3. Bruce Boyden says:

    In the long series of bills proposing reform of wiretapping law, Celler introduced what I think is the first one that took the form that the 1968 Wiretap Act took — a separate criminal statute that prohibited “interception,” defined as “the obtaining of the whole or any part of a telephone communication by means of any device, contrivance, or machine, of any kind, but it shall not include eavesdropping on a party line or any act or practice done in the ordinary and usual course of business in the operation or use of common carrier communications system by regular employees thereof.” H.R. 4513, 84th Cong. (1955). I haven’t confirmed that this was absolutely the first bill to take that form but it was one of the first. Celler was pretty active in the wiretapping bills introduced throughout the 1940s and 1950s. He seems to have been less active on the issue in the 1960s, when legislation actually started getting significant hearings, for some reason, possibly because the Senate started taking the lead.

  4. Peter Samson says:

    From the “Brooklyn Eagle” of June 7, 1928:

    Celler to Urge House Ban Wire Tapping by ‘Drys’

    Voicing his disapproval of the United States Supreme Court’s decision that wire tapping is legal for evidence In Prohibition cases, Congressman Emanuel Celler of Brooklyn telegraphed to The Eagle today that when Congress reconvenes he will offer a resolution “making information obtained by intercepting telephone messages inadmissable in any court.” “Only In that fashion,” he said, “will we we able to redeem our self respect as a nation.”

  5. Bruce Boyden says:

    That’s interesting, Peter, so it sounds like Celler may have had some involvement in Section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934, as well — I hadn’t realized he had been around that long.