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Emanuel Celler
Emanuel Celler (May 6, 1888–January 15, 1981) was an American politician from New Yorkmarker who served in the United States House of Representatives for almost 50 years, from March 1923 to January 1973.

During his first twenty-two years in Congress, 1923–1945, Celler's Brooklynmarker and Queensmarker-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. In the 1972 primary he was defeated by attorney Elizabeth Holtzman in a stunning upset. Had he succeeded in being re-elected to Congress in 1973, he would have served in the 16th as the district had once again been re-designated. He is the most senior member of Congress to have ever lost a primary.

Service in the House of Representatives

Celler was a native of Brooklynmarker and of mixed Germanmarker Catholic and Jewish heritage. A graduate of Boys' High School and Columbia Law School, he was the first Democrat to ever serve his district and was the fourth longest-serving congressman in history (only Jamie Whitten, John Dingell 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.

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 status quo 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.

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 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. 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.

In June 1972, Celler unexpectedly lost the Democratic primary to 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. Even though Celler was on the ballot as the candidate of the Liberal Party, he decided not to campaign, allowing Holtzman to easily win 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 Jerseymarker, 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 Brooklynmarker at the age of 92.


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