Emanuel Celler
Portrait by Joseph Margulies, 1963
39th Dean of the United States House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1965 – January 3, 1973
Preceded byCarl Vinson
Succeeded byWright Patman
Chair of the House Judiciary Committee
In office
January 3, 1955 – January 3, 1973
Preceded byChauncey W. Reed
Succeeded byPeter W. Rodino
In office
January 3, 1949 – January 3, 1953
Preceded byEarl C. Michener
Succeeded byChauncey W. Reed
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
March 4, 1923 – January 3, 1973
Preceded byLester D. Volk
Succeeded byElizabeth Holtzman
Constituency10th district (1923–1945)
15th district (1945–1953)
11th district (1953–1963)
10th district (1963–1973)
Personal details
Born(1888-05-06)May 6, 1888
New York City, U.S.
DiedJanuary 15, 1981(1981-01-15) (aged 92)
New York City, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materColumbia University (BA, LLB)

Emanuel Celler (May 6, 1888 – January 15, 1981) was an American Democratic politician from New York who represented parts of the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens in the United States House of Representatives for nearly 50 years, from March 1923 to January 1973. He served as the dean of the United States House of Representatives from 1965 to 1973. Celler chaired the House Committee on the Judiciary for eleven terms between 1949 and 1973 and was a leading advocate for the liberalization of immigration and naturalization laws, from his early stand against the Immigration Act of 1924 to his sponsorship of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. He ranks as the fifth longest-serving congressman in history[a] and the longest-serving member of either house of Congress in New York's history.

Celler strongly supported help for Jewish refugees fleeing Europe during World War II. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee for all but two years between 1949 and 1973, he ushered the major civil rights legislation including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. In the early 1970s, Celler took a position in opposition to the women's Equal Rights Amendment.

He was defeated in the 1972 primary by Elizabeth Holtzman, becoming the most senior Representative ever to lose a primary.

Early life

Emanuel Celler was born on May 6, 1888 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents, Josephine (née Müller) and Henry H. Celler, were each the children of German immigrants. His paternal grandparents and maternal grandmother were Jewish; his maternal grandfather was Catholic. After graduating from Boys High School in Brooklyn, Columbia College, and Columbia Law School, Celler was admitted to the New York bar in 1912.[1]

United States House of Representatives (1923—73)

Celler was first elected to the House in 1922, defeating incumbent Republican Lester D. Volk.

As a representative-elect in December 1922, Celler forcefully criticized the Second Ku Klux Klan as "a national menace," a "canker and disease that is harassing our body politic," and "worse than Bolshevism."[2]

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. For his final campaign in 1972, the district had been renumbered as the 16th.

Emanuel Celler in 1924

Celler made his first important speech on the House floor during consideration of the Johnson–Reed 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, among others. Celler was vehemently opposed to the Johnson-Reed 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.

U.S. Guyer (left), Emanuel Celler (center), and Hatton W. Sumners (right) in 1937

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.[3]

Emanuel Celler in 1943

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 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.

Emanuel Celler in 1951

In 1951, Celler conducted hearings in the United States House Judiciary Committee to examine the anti-trust exemption granted to Major League Baseball (MLB).[4] Celler entered the hearings believing that MLB needed laws to support the reserve clause.[5] Star players, such as Lou Boudreau and Pee Wee Reese, indicated their support of the reserve clause. Minor league veteran Ross Horning testified about his experiences in baseball, which he said were more common for rank-and-file players.[6] Cy Block, who appeared briefly in the major leagues, testified about his experiences and how the reserve clause prevented him from getting an extended trial in the major leagues.[7] Celler's final report suggested that the Congress should take no action, allowing for the matter to be settled in the federal judiciary of the United States. In 1953, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld MLB's anti-trust exemption and the reserve clause in Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc..[6]

In the early 1950s, the Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy attacked Celler's patriotism. 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 1953–1955 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. He worked closely with Rep. William Moore McCulloch of Ohio, the Ranking Member, to craft sufficient bipartisan support in the House to overwhelm Southern Democrat opposition in the Senate. 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 U.S. Gun Control Act of 1968 directly evolved from Celler's Bill H.R. 17735.[8][9]

1972 Democratic primary defeat

In June 1972, Celler (then the House of Representatives' most senior member) unexpectedly lost the Democratic primary to a somewhat more liberal Democrat, attorney Elizabeth Holtzman, who eked out a 635-vote victory over Celler,[10] based chiefly on Celler's opposition to feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment. At the time, Celler was the most senior congressman ever to have been ousted in a primary. Even though Celler remained on the ballot as the candidate of the Liberal Party, he decided not to campaign and endorsed Holtzman in September.[11] This allowed Holtzman to win the general election that November with 66% of the vote, versus 23% for her Republican opponent. Celler received 7%.[12]

Final years

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In his final years, Celler remained busy, speaking about immigration and myriad other topics that occupied his half-century of public service. During the Watergate scandal of 1973–1974, 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 before his 90th birthday, he granted an interview in which he reflected on New York and national politicians.[13]

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

See also


  1. ^ CELLER, Emanuel - Biographical Information. Bioguide.congress.gov. Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  2. ^ "Celler to Urge Congress to Start Ku Klux Inquiry". The Chat (Brooklyn, NY). December 2, 1922. p. 10. Retrieved October 1, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ Letter from Emanuel Celler to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, July 24, 1939
  4. ^ "Mystery Man New Witness For Baseball". Quad-City Times. Associated Press. May 24, 2018. p. 15. Retrieved March 1, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "19 Jul 1951, 21". The Tampa Tribune. 1951-07-19. Retrieved 2022-03-06 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ a b Corbett, Warren. "Voices for the Voiceless: Ross Horning, Cy Block, and the Unwelcome Truth". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved March 8, 2022.
  7. ^ "16 Oct 1951, 30". The Herald-News. 1951-10-16. Retrieved 2022-03-08 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks Upon Signing the Gun Control Act of 1968 Archived 2018-09-09 at the Wayback Machine. Presidency.ucsb.edu (1968-10-22). Retrieved on 2013-07-23.
  9. ^ Spitzer, Robert J. (2011). "Gun Control: Congressional Mandate or Myth?". In Tatalovich, Raymond; Daynes, Byron W. (eds.). Moral Controversies in American Politics (4th ed.). Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc. p. 176. ISBN 978-0-7656-2650-9. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  10. ^ "Holtzman, Elizabeth". U.S. House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  11. ^ "Rep. Celler Is Bowing Out". (Elmira, NY) Star-Gazette. Associated Press. September 29, 1972. p. 2. Retrieved October 1, 2022 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "NY – District 16 – History". OurCampaigns.com. Retrieved May 14, 2019.
  13. ^ Lynn, Frank (1978-03-29). "Emanuel Celler, Near 90, Looks Back in Candor". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2023-09-15.


  1. ^ Only John Dingell, Jamie Whitten, John Conyers, and Carl Vinson served longer.


U.S. House of Representatives Preceded byLester D. Volk Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 10th congressional district 1923–1945 Succeeded byAndrew L. Somers Preceded byThomas F. Burchill Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 15th congressional district 1945–1953 Succeeded byJohn H. Ray Preceded byJames J. Heffernan Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 11th congressional district 1953–1963 Succeeded byEugene J. Keogh Preceded byEdna F. Kelly Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 10th congressional district 1963–1973 Succeeded byMario Biaggi Political offices Preceded byEarl Michener (1st time), Chauncey Reed (2nd time) Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee 1949–1953, 1955–1973 Succeeded byChauncey Reed (1st time), Peter Rodino (2nd time) Honorary titles Preceded byCarl Vinson Dean of the House 1965–1973 Succeeded byWright Patman