In case it isn't already completely obvious because of the length and language used, this is a paper I wrote for a class a few years ago. It gives a history of this bill's passage into law, and a pretty good picture of politics in action, much more than the average bill.
It began in 1963, when President Kennedy finally prepared civil rights legislation under pressure from the national media and from his brother, then Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The president chose to let Congressman Emanuel Celler (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, sponsor the bill, as Celler had been responsible for attempts at civil rights legislation in the past. Introduced into the House of Representatives on June 20th, it was sent by Speaker John McCormack (D-Mass.) to the Judiciary Committee with the title HR 7152. Celler immediately assigned it to Subcommittee 5, chosen both because Celler chaired that subcommittee and because it had a majority of liberal Democrats, and scheduled hearings.
The subcommittee first heard from Robert Kennedy, as his department would be responsible for enforcing the bill, were it to pass. After an opening statement and hours of questioning, Robert Kennedy made an important slip. Questioned about a similar bill introduced earlier by Representative John Lindsay (R-N.Y.), who was sitting on the subcommittee, Kennedy replied:
Kennedy: I am not. As the chairman said, there are 165 bills or 365. I have not read them all.
Lindsay: I am quite deeply disturbed, Mr. Attorney General, that you have never bothered to read this important legislation—
Kennedy: Congressman, I am sorry that I have not read all of the bills, and I am sorry that I have not read your bill.
Lindsay: In view of the fact that you apparently did not consider these bills at all, I can’t help but ask the question as to whether or not you really want public accommodations legislation or not. This is a question I would like to have an answer to. I should like to add this one comment to this question. Let us be frank about it. The rumor is all over the cloakrooms and corridors of Capitol Hill that the administration has made a deal with the leadership to scuttle the accommodations.
Kennedy: I am surprised by this, but maybe I shouldn’t be, that you would come out here in this open hearing room and say that you heard these rumors in the cloakroom. I think it has been made clear…and I don’t think the president nor I have to defend our good faith in our efforts, here to you or to really anyone else…I want this legislation to pass. I don’t think, Congressman, that I have to defend myself to you about this matter.
After being confronted with his unintended insult of Representative Lindsay, Kennedy went even further, cavalierly dismissing Lindsay’s concerns, not even giving him the respect to call him Mr. Congressman, as is common etiquette during hearings, and so escalated a situation he could have quickly resolved. The next day the president tried to repair the damage, as Secretary of Labor W. Willard Wirtz began his testimony before the subcommittee with an apology, and a plea for nonpartisan cooperation, but it was too late. Liberal Republicans, a key group necessary for the passage of HR 7152, had been angered by the attorney general, and so were withdrawing their support. Meanwhile, conservative Republicans saw the possibility of a weakened president, and so would not move to help. To bring both back to the table, the administration attempted to win the support of an important moderate Republican, William McCulloch (R-Ohio), senior Republican in the House Judiciary Committee.
During the 4th of July recess, Assistant Attorney General Burke Marshall was sent to Ohio to meet with McCulloch personally. After the meeting, Marshall had received McCulloch’s backing, but only under two conditions: That the administration prevent the Senate from substantially weakening the bill, and that the president give equal credit to the Republicans for the bill if it passed.
When the recess ended, Emanuel Celler continued the hearings, listening to over 100 witnesses from several interest groups and finishing by August 2nd. At this point Celler claimed that the bill was going into markup, but in reality President Kennedy had asked that the bill be put on hold. An important tax bill was before the House Ways and Means Committee, which included seven southern Democrats and ten Republicans. Fearing that they would retaliate for any civil rights legislation by killing his tax bill, Kennedy decided to let HR 7152 sit until the tax bill cleared committee. So for two weeks no markup sessions were held, and for another two weeks they took place without any amendments proposed. At the same time, McCulloch met with the Justice Department to draft a civil rights act that would be acceptable to all parties involved, including the president, Democrats, and both liberal and conservative Republicans.
Meanwhile, civil rights groups congregated in New York to plan demonstrations and lobbying in support of HR 7152. Although excited that a bill was before Congress, many civil rights leaders pushed for even stronger legislation, and pushed for it to pass quickly. Most notably, they planned a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, to take place on August 28th, that came to be known as the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. That night President Kennedy met with Martin Luther King and other important civil rights leaders, both to thank them for their support and convince them that stronger legislation had no chance of passing Congress.
When the President’s tax bill finally reached the floor, Celler began markup in earnest. He held meetings in as much secret as possible, in order to prevent angry Southerners from punishing Kennedy for the Civil Rights Act by voting against his tax bill. In running markup sessions, Celler ignored the Kennedy Administration’s instructions for leading amendments so that they might closely match the compromise made with McCulloch. Instead, Celler planned to send a much stronger bill out of the subcommittee, so that passages could be traded out of the bill in exchange for other concessions from conservative Republicans and southern Democrats. His hope was to first pacify civil rights lobbyists by sending out a strong bill, and then to make the conservatives seem more powerful to their constituents by giving large concessions. He had followed this same strategy in 1957 and 1960 for other civil rights bills.
So during markup Celler first stated that all votes on amendments would be tentative. Conservative congressmen then were more willing to accept amendments strengthening the bill, as they could all be fought over later. And so the bill became much stronger, as Celler intended. On October 1st, having the bill he desired, Celler reversed his position and stated that all previous amendments were now permanent. Using his power as chair of the subcommittee, Celler quickly rejected all Republican attempts to amend the bill further, and on October 2nd he held a vote to send the bill favorably out of subcommittee. With a liberal Democratic majority, he quickly succeeded.
Celler’s actions angered many, most notably Bill McCulloch. To him, Celler’s actions seemed to break an agreement he had with the administration over the content of the bill, making it so strong that it would have no chance of passing Congress. Other Republicans on the Judiciary were angered as well by Celler’s disregard for their input on the subcommittee bill. So these fourteen Republicans held a meeting with House Minority Leader Charles Halleck (R-Ind.) and told him unequivocally that they would not cut back on Manny Celler’s amendments to the bill. They would not take the blame for “gutting HR 7152,” when in reality all they would be doing would be to pare it down to its original size. Whereas before Celler’s strategy had worked, the fact that the president was a Democrat meant that the Republicans could not be sure of the presidential backing they had in 1957 and 1960, and so they would not risk the political backlash to repairing Celler’s bill.
Halleck notified the administration of the Republican stance, stating that they would only offer half of the amendments required to fix the bill. So Marshall Burke again met with McCulloch, this time with Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, to negotiate a second agreement, whereby the bill would be moderated by both Republicans and Democrats. But again Celler unintentionally broke the agreement. The first amendment was offered by Democratic Congressman Roland Libonati (Ill.) at Celler’s behest, as planned, but the committee did not have enough time to vote on it before adjourning. A few days later, Celler was on the news, and denied having anything to do with attempts to water down HR 7152, in essence placing all blame on Libonati for an amendment he was ordered to offer.
When the committee reconvened on October 22nd, Libonati withdrew his amendment, effectively killing the agreement made with McCulloch. A frustrated Arch Moore (R-W.Va.) moved to report the bill favorably to the House. Once made, the motion had a surprisingly high chance of passing. Those against HR 7152 would vote it out so that it would be sure to fail in a vote on the floor, and those for it would be able to look good to civil rights activists by sending out a powerful bill. But just as in the last meeting, the meeting adjourned before there was time for a vote to be taken, giving the administration time to broker one last agreement with McCulloch.
Again McCulloch sat down, this time with Katzenbach and Celler, at a preliminary meeting to negotiate a compromise bill. Meanwhile, President Kennedy personally lobbied Democrats on the Judiciary Committee to defeat the Moore motion, while Halleck agreed to get Republicans to vote down the motion as well. Once McCulloch finished his meeting with Katzenbach and Celler, he met with Lindsay to negotiate the compromise, for any compromise made would have to have the support of liberal Republicans like Lindsay. The final bill was stronger than the original HR 7152, but weaker than the subcommittee version.
The Judiciary Committee reconvened on October 29th. This time the Justice Department gave Celler a script to follow, unwilling to see him destroy another agreement. The first order of business was the vote on the Moore motion, which failed. Immediately afterwards Celler offered the new compromise bill as a single amendment, and had it read aloud to the committee. The reading was finished by 11:52, leaving only eight minutes before the committee would have to adjourn for the day. Celler spoke about the merits of the bill for a single minute, although he had planned to speak longer, and gave McCulloch exactly one minute to speak as well. With six minutes left, Celler motioned for a vote, and the compromise bill was accepted.
Having survived the long committee process, HR 7152 still had to be sent to the Rules Committee for a rule on debate, and this had its own problems. The Rules Committee was chaired by Howard Smith (D-Va.), a conservative that was loath to send out any civil rights bills. So for more than three weeks the bill sat in the Rules Committee without very good chances, until the assassination of President Kennedy changed the political climate.
When Lyndon Johnson came into office, he immediately worked for the passage of HR 7152, telling his advisers that, “The first priority is passage of the civil rights act.” He used Kennedy’s death as political capital. Less than a week after Kennedy’s death, he said in a speech during a special joint session of Congress that, “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest passage of the civil rights bill for which we have fought so long.” He went public, speaking before cameras of the problems of segregation, and behind the scenes he talked to important civil rights leaders, assuring them of his support and asking for their help, and so these organizations increased their lobbying pressure on Congress, focusing much less on demonstrations. Johnson also met with labor heads to ask for their support, and talked to important congressmen about the fate of the bill.
All of this spurred Congress to action on its attempts to extract HR 7152 from Howard Smith’s Rules Committee. There were several options: Since thirty days had passed since the bill had entered the Rules Committee, a majority of congressmen could file a discharge petition, under House Rule 27, which would take the bill out of committee and to the floor. The problem was that Bill McCulloch did not endorse such a strategy, believing it improper to take power away from the committee, and without his support it was doomed to failure. The second option was use of Calendar Wednesday, whereby any chairman can ask that a bill from his committee that is already in the Rules Committee may be brought out to be debated for two hours and then voted on. This tactic was not used because, of the eleven committees called before the Judiciary, six were headed by Southerners, who could simply delay until Calendar Wednesday was over, preventing Celler from ever having a chance to make his request.
HR 7152 was finally removed from the Rules Committee from within. House Rule 11 states that any three members of a committee may request a meeting. If after three days the chairman has ignored them, a majority may order one meeting on a specific subject. Democrats could give five of the eight votes constituting a majority, and the influential Clarence Brown, Sr. (R-Ohio) controlled another five. Upon threat of holding such a meeting and thereby cutting all power away from Howard Smith, the chairman relented and scheduled hearings for January 9th, 1964. During the hearings, Smith asked barbed questions of Celler and McCulloch, referring once to “the nefarious bill,” and at another time stating that it was “as full of booby traps as a dog is full of fleas.” Nevertheless, he did not attempt to block it, for he knew that he was powerless to do so. On January 30th, HR 7152 got a rule, with a vote of 11-4.
The next day, January 31st, Congress resolved itself into the Committee of the Whole to hear debate on the bill. The rule allowed for five hours of debate for each party. Celler represented the Democrats and McCulloch the Republicans as both became floor leaders. For the next two days debate was dived equally between proponents of the bill and Southerners who were strongly opposed to it. The third day ended debate and began the amendment process, during which each title was read one at a time, and anyone was allowed to offer an amendment which could be debated with a limit of five minutes per person.
Although McCulloch and Celler had the votes to prevent any amendments from cutting the bill, the danger was that as time went on, people would leave to attend to other business, leaving the Southerners to pass amendments despite their small numbers. Ironically, the reverse seemed to happen as volunteers patrolled Congressional offices making sure that everyone voted any time an amendment arose. As Southerners lost amendment after amendment, they began showing up in smaller numbers. Celler and McCulloch agreed to a remarkable extent as to which amendments to endorse, and those amendments passed were almost exclusively those endorsed by both. A notable exception was the case in which Howard Smith, the same congressman that attempted to stifle the bill in the Rules Committee, attempted to add an amendment strengthening the bill to include sex discrimination. He believed that such an amendment would be irresistible to vote for, but would eventually destroy the bill by making it too strong to be agreed upon either in the House or the Senate. He was right on one count, the amendment passed, and did so despite Manny Celler’s vehement opposition, who stated that “there are in the equality of sex that some people glibly assert…serious problems.”
Finally, on February 10th, the amendment process finished and Congress stopped working as a committee and began sitting in a normal session. Two formalities where congressmen could request a roll call vote were quickly dispensed with, and a vote on HR 7152 was finally held. It passed resoundingly, with a vote of 290-130.
The fate of HR 7152 in the House demonstrates the fact that often political motivations are just as important as the content of a bill in determining its passage. The give and take between McCulloch, Celler, and the presidency was necessary to obtain a bill supported by all sides. Only through that process was there a method whereby all could gain credit for their work without being punished for taking necessary actions.
While the process it took for HR 7152 to pass the House was complex, in the Senate it was much simpler. This did not make it any easier, though. A bill sent to the Senate will normally be introduced into a committee, as is done in the House. But the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by James Eastland (D-Miss.), was known as a graveyard for civil rights legislation. Anything that went in was never sent back out. To avoid this, Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield (D-Montana) motioned that the bill bypass committee, and be placed directly on the calendar. This issue, despite objection from southern Senator Richard Russell (D-Ga.) was agreed upon quickly with a vote of 54-37.
On Monday, March 9th, Mansfield planned to bring HR 7152 to the floor, but he did so knowing full well what would come next. In order to bring a bill to the floor without debate, the majority leader must motion to bring it to the floor within the first two hours. To prevent this, Russell had the clerk read the journal from the day before, which took up an hour, and then proposed an amendment to the journal, speaking about his amendment for another two hours. After Russell finally sat down, Mansfield then tried to bring HR 7152 to the floor by unanimous consent, but unsurprisingly an objection was raised, and so the motion was up for debate. So began a two week long filibuster that was only a prelude of what was to come. For hours on end southern senators would talk on the Senate floor, sometimes only vaguely referring to the motion at hand. Nevertheless, on March 26th, the Southerners finally allowed the motion to come to a vote, so that they might leave for Easter recess. The bill was finally sent to the floor by a vote of 67-17.
Mansfield made Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.) floor manager, and on March 30th debate on HR 7152 finally began, and with it came the real filibuster. There are only two ways to fight a filibuster: The first is to wait it out. With a sufficiently small group a filibuster must eventually end as physical needs overtake any desire to prevent the legislation from passing. In this case, the southern coalition was large enough and vehement enough in its opposition to continue a filibuster indefinitely. The only other choice then was cloture, a rule by which debate would be stopped if two-thirds of senators, or 67, voted to end it. But since 1917 cloture had only succeeded five times. It had failed all eleven times it was invoked on civil rights legislation. Many senators believed the filibuster was a right, and didn’t want to weaken it in case they needed to use it in the future. So cloture would be difficult to obtain.
As Democratic leaders searched for the necessary votes, the filibuster continued. Whenever the number of senators seemed to fall below 51, a motion was made to check for a quorum, and while everyone was counted tired speakers had a chance to rest from their daylong speeches. For weeks the filibuster continued, and it seemed the only hope for cloture rested in the support of Minority Leader Everett Dirksen. Just as Bill McCulloch was needed to pull votes in the House, Dirksen was needed to get the 67 votes for cloture in the Senate. The problem was that at first glance Dirksen did not seem to be particularly enthusiastic for the bill. And so Hubert Humphrey would spend his afternoons frequently talking with Dirksen in an attempt to bring him over to his side. As the filibuster wound on, entering its fifth week, Dirksen began to see the necessity of voting for cloture. If not because he supported the bill, although he might have, than more because the Senate had other business to attend to, and he didn’t want to be in the situation where there was unfinished business after the Republican convention.
Dirksen began looking for a way to change the legislation so that conservative Republicans, who were not necessarily against civil rights but pro-states’ rights, would be able to accept it and agree to a vote for cloture. Privately he let Humphrey know that he was willing to negotiate, and they began to compromise. Every amendment posed by Dirksen, however, had to be approved by McCulloch in the House, who would refuse to back any changes that substantially weakened the bill, and so would, using his influence, vote down a compromised bill returned to the House. Dirksen finally reached a compromise by allowing for state and local enforcement of provisions of the civil rights act first. Only if such enforcement failed would the federal government get involved. In this was a compromise was reached whereby states maintained their power while at the same time maintaining the strength of the original bill. This agreement was not quickly made, however. Weeks went by as Dirksen haggled, and the filibuster went on.
Meanwhile, religious groups began taking an active roll in the passage of HR 7152. A 24-hour vigil was held at the Lincoln Memorial until the legislation was passed. Individual churches began letter writing campaigns, and some asked influential members to speak to Senators on the church’s behalf. Letters came in 30-1 asking that the bill be passed. These outpourings undoubtedly helped Dirksen get the required votes.
Finally, on June 8th, more than two months after debate began, cloture was finally invoked. But even then, under the rules each senator still has an hour to speak, and so debate continued. Not until June 19th did debate finally stop. This was the longest filibuster in history, doubling the previous record. Dirksen’s amendments were accepted, and HR 7152 finally passed the Senate 73-27.
The Senate demonstrates two paradoxical principles: A single member has extraordinary powers to block legislation, but at the same time methods exist to get around any blocks a Senator might place.
There was still one more important step before the bill became law. It had to go back to the House of Representatives for approval of Senate amendments. Normally a bill would be sent to a conference committee, composed of members of both the House and the Senate, but in this case such an outcome would be disastrous. A conference committee would include members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was avoided in the first place because of its posture against civil rights legislation. Even if a conference report was made, it could face another filibuster in the Senate.
To prevent this, Celler and McCulloch planned a motion to accept the amendments completely. While this method would avoid a conference committee, the motion would still have to be sent to the Rules Committee, where Chairman Smith could once again attempt to kill it. McCulloch considered bringing the bill up under “suspension of the rules,” as this would not require the motion to go through the Rules Committee. He eventually decided against it because he was not sure he could get a two-thirds vote in support of the bill, something required under suspension of the rules. So HR 7152 was sent to the Rules Committee, but just like the last time, Smith could not hold the bill because other members of the committee threatened to hold a meeting without him. So on June 30th Smith held hearings, still planning to extend them as long as he could, but a majority of the committee, without his consent, voted to end discussion that same day, and sent the motion to the floor with only one hour of debate. Two days later, on July 2nd, the hour was quickly finished, the motion voted on and approved 289-126. That night, at 6:45, Lyndon Johnson signed the bill that had come so far.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 demonstrated that Congress can be a place of compromise and cooperation, as occurred in the end between Celler and McCulloch in the House, and Humphrey and Dirksen in the Senate. At the same time, it may be a place of battle, as individual congressmen do everything they can to sabotage a bill, as Howard Smith tried to do in the House, and as Southerners tried to do with their filibuster in the Senate. In the end though, a coalition of diverse groups won over a small faction that refused to negotiate. In this case, at least, cooperation won out over partisanship.
All quotes except the last (and the bulk of information) taken from:
Charles and Barbara Whalen, The Longest Debate (Washington D.C., Seven Locks Press, 1985).
Last quote, beginning, "there are in the equality of sex..." taken from:
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Washington D.C., BNA Inc., 1964).