The Senate extended the life of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights by one year through an amendment to a routine, House-passed private bill for the benefit of Mrs. Elizabeth G. Mason (H.R. 3369). The House concurred on October 7.
Subcommittee No. 5 reported the subcommittee-approved bill (HR 7152) to the full Judiciary Committee in a series of voice votes. Its ten provisions vastly strengthened the original bill and outraged the committee's Republicans who had been working on a moderate compromise.
Southern Democrats, on the other hand, supported the vastly strengthened bill knowing that their colleagues still on the fence would be scared off by the bill, thus ensuring its defeat in the full House.
Provisions of the subcommittee-approved bill:
Title I (Voting Rights): expanded to cover all elections—federal, state, and local.
A few hours after Celler announced the subcommittee draft of H.R. 7152, Nicholas Katzenbach “practically hauled him bodily into a meeting with [Burke] Marshall, [Larry] O’Brien, and Celler’s Judiciary Committee counsels, Ben Zelenko and Bill Foley. The deputy attorney general was apoplectic; the last he had known, before being booted from the executive sessions …, was that Celler was on track to deliver the president’s bill, modified to fit [William] McCulloch’s specifications. The bill that emerged, he said, was unrecognizable.”
Ranking committee member William McCulloch met with the other 13 Republicans on the full Judiciary Committee in conference room H-202, a hideaway just off the House floor, three hours after the subcommittee passed the strong bill. They were outraged at the high-handed way Celler had pushed through the bill. “It’s a pail of garbage,” McCulloch exclaimed after the subcommittee vote.
McCulloch had invested a great deal of time and effort in preparing a more moderate bill to gain the support of both liberals and conservatives in his party. That effort appeared to have been wasted. The group agreed to refuse to cooperate any longer with Democrats.
Administration strategists had considered McCulloch’s unqualified support to be essential. They were counting on him to round up the moderate Republican votes needed to get the bill passed on the House floor.
Attorney General Robert Kennedy met with Celler. The congressman, Kennedy “practically screamed, had failed the administration, and failed the bill.” Now, the Justice Department would handle the legislation. The only solution was for Celler to step aside and let Katzenbach and Marshall broker a compromise with McCulloch.
Katzenbach and Marshall met with McCulloch, who relayed to the Justice Department officials the outrage expressed by his Republican colleagues. The original bill would have been a tough sell to Republicans, but Celler’s version was impossible.
The Ohio Republican was not ready to give up, however, and he proposed a deal: the White House would take the public responsibility for exacting cuts to the bill, and he would win over Charles Halleck, and the two of them would bring along enough Republican support in the Judiciary Committee to pass the compromise bill.
Once McCulloch’s demands became clear, President Kennedy decided on a three-track strategy. First, Katzenbach would work with McCulloch, in secret, to hammer out a compromise. Second, as the vote in the Judiciary Committee grew closer, he would lobby both McCulloch and Halleck personally to make sure they would deliver Republican votes. And third, he would send Attorney General Kennedy back to the Capitol to explain why the administration opposed the subcommittee bill.
Following debate, the House concurred with the Senate and passed a bill extending the life of the Civil Rights Commission for one year.
Shortly after the House convened, Nicholas Katzenbach, lead White House negotiator on civil rights, and House Minority Leader Charles Halleck met with Speaker John McCormack in the Speaker’s office. Halleck asked for the meeting to pass along the message that Republicans would not cooperate with Celler.
All three men agreed that the subcommittee bill must be moderated, but Halleck insisted that half the amendments be offered by liberal Democrats in order to prevent charges that Republicans had gutted the bill. Otherwise, Halleck warned, the Republicans would reject all the weakening amendments and let the strong bill die of its own weight on the House floor.
Attorney General Kennedy decided to accept the Halleck approach rather than throw the bill away. He insisted that Republicans and Democrats agree on a version of the bill before it reached the floor. Negotiations among Celler, McCulloch, and Justice Department officials began.
Celler’s version of HR 7152, the strong subcommittee version, was formally presented to the full House Judiciary Committee comprised of 35 diverse men, all lawyers. There were 21 Democrats and 14 Republicans. There were 17 liberals, 8 conservative southerners, 9 moderate-to-conservative northerners, and 1 maverick.
Under the terms of the agreement between the president and Halleck, Democrats would have to deliver 10 votes (half their committee membership) and the Republicans, seven.
At the start of the meeting, closed to the press and outsiders because it was still part of the markup process, each committee member received two documents. One was a 99-page Committee Print. The first 37 pages contained President Kennedy’s original bill, which was crossed out, and the remaining 62 pages carried the “Clean” version of the substitute. The second document was a Confidential Print showing how the changes were made in each section of the original bill.
Celler explained that the subcommittee bill would be read title by title, at which time additional amendments could be offered. He expected that a coalition of conservative Republicans and southern Democrats would trim back the bill, as he had envisioned in his initial legislative strategizing. [See September 10]
The Senate Commerce Committee ordered reported an amended version of S 1732 barring discrimination based on race, color, or religion in hotels and motels, theaters, motion picture houses, retail stores, restaurants, lunchrooms or the like, where the clientele or goods sold moved in interstate commerce "to a substantial degree." The bill, which passed out of committee on a 14-3 vote, exempted owner-occupied private homes in which not more than five rooms were for rent.
But, according to Congressional Quarterly, the Commerce Committee did not file a formal report on the bill by the end of 1963. Once a report was filed, the bill could have been brought up by any senator. The Democratic leadership did not want to begin Senate debate on civil rights legislation, and confront the expected southern filibuster, until the House had passed its bill and sent it to the Senate.
The Joint Senate House Republican Leadership meeting included discussion of civil rights. “Congressman Halleck stated that he had recently attended several meetings in regard to Civil Rights and stated he would like to see the Senate act first. Senator Dirksen, however, thought that Senator Mansfield had no intention to schedule the legislation at this time but would wait for House action.”
The meeting minutes continued: “The opinion expressed was that the Democrats in the House were trying to put the burden on the Republicans to strike certain language in the subcommittee bill. The consensus was that Robert Kennedy should appear before the Committee and say what was satisfactory and recommend the changes to be made.”
Emanuel Celler had to find non-southern Democrats on his committee who would offer amendments to pare back H.R. 7152 to meet McCulloch’s demands: limiting Title I to federal elections, dropping Title II coverage for retail and personal service businesses, and dropping Title III altogether.
Roland Libonati, a Chicago Democrat, offered the amendment on Title I and drew immediate criticism.
Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy testified before the full House Judiciary Committee in closed session and asked for modifications in the subcommittee bill—to alter provisions that were either legally unwise or would provoke unnecessary opposition to the bill. He was especially critical of the wide scope of the public accommodations section and Title III, which would have given the Justice Department almost unlimited powers in filing suits to stop civil rights deprivations.
As agreed to with Attorney General Kennedy, chairman Celler said, “The urgency for bipartisan legislation at this session is so strong that I intend to put aside my own feelings with respect to the desirability of provisions in addition to those recommended by the administration. I shall exert every effort toward achieving a bill along the lines recommended by the administration to be reported out of this committee within two weeks.”
Members of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights strongly disagreed with Robert Kennedy’s “sellout.” Arnold Aronson sent telegrams to the president, Attorney General, and members of the House Judiciary Committee stating, “To weaken the bill at this time would simply encourage civil unrest and heighten racial tensions. It would be an invitation for others to weaken the measure.”
Clarence Mitchell told the press:
There is no reason for this kind of sellout. The administration should be in there fighting for the subcommittee bill. ... Everybody in there [in the closed Judiciary Committee session] is a white man, and what they are doing affects [the] 10 percent of the population that is black. I don’t know if the Negroes are being protected.
The full House Judiciary Committee met to begin voting on the final version of the bill to go before the House.
A series of parliamentary maneuvers in the full Judiciary Committee proved increasingly frustrating to both liberal and conservative members. Efforts by southern senators to send the bill back to the subcommittee fell short repeatedly. Finally, Arch Moore (R-WV) moved to report the bill as it stood (the stronger subcommittee version) out favorably to the House.
Moore’s motion, if adopted, would end the Judiciary Committee and Emanuel Celler’s control of the bill and likely result in the death of civil rights legislation in the Rules Committee, on the House floor, or in a Senate filibuster. Southern Democrats, who believed a strong bill would die on the House floor, favored Moore’s motion. Republicans, who felt double-crossed by the chairman, were willing to vote for an unpassable bill and to let Celler and the administration suffer the consequences.
But Moore’s motion did not come to a vote. The House bell rang at Noon announcing the opening of the House’s daily floor meeting. It was pointed out that the chamber was in session and, in accordance with House rules, all committee business must be suspended. Chairman Celler cancelled committee meetings scheduled for the next two days.
Katzenbach met yet again with McCulloch in an effort to limit the damage of Libonati’s move. McCulloch said that after the latest incident, there was no way their current deal on the bill would attract more than seven Republican votes—not enough for the bill to pass safely and well short of the number needed to characterize a vote as bipartisan. A new deal would have to be struck, one that cut even further into the subcommittee draft, starting with the Fair Employment Practices Commission.
The solution seemed to rest with a bill once introduced by a Republican member which, instead of giving the FEPC cease-and-desist powers, required it to sue in federal court. The agency would still have power, but the role of the courts would provide a check on it. McCulloch endorsed the new approach but doubted that Minority Leader Halleck would go along—without Halleck, they would never get the 60 Republican votes they needed in the full House.
Halleck met with Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and heard their complaints.
6:00 p.m. President Kennedy met secretly with Vice President Johnson, Speaker McCormack, Majority Leader Carl Albert (D-OK), Minority Leader Halleck, Minority Whip Leslie Arends (R-IL), Celler, and McCulloch in the Cabinet Room of the White House.
The early evening meeting lasted two hours. There was extensive discussion of the divisions within the House Judiciary Committee, and the desire of southern conservatives to support northern liberals simply to ensure that the bill reported by the committee, as opposed to the original bill proposed by Kennedy, would never be passed by the House.
Halleck recounted his earlier meeting to the president: “I think it’s only fair to say that this damned thing has gotten all fizzled up and fouled up, into where some of the guys on our side who are normally pretty steady-going ... they’ve got themselves all boiled up.”
The meeting went and forth several times with Kennedy trying to get commitments from the House Republicans, and the Republicans avoiding doing so. Finally, Halleck signaled that his party was ready to deal in order to get the bill out of the committee.
Kennedy argued for a more moderate bill than the subcommittee version, which, he believed, could not pass. McCulloch agreed to try one more time for compromise.
President Kennedy met secretly with Judiciary Committee liberals at 9:30 a.m. to explain that a compromise bill was being written. To ensure secrecy, the congressional delegation arrived at the diplomatic entrance to the White House and took the elevator to the president’s living quarters. They met in the Yellow Oval Room. The president stressed the priority to pass a bill, but the liberals were noncommittal.
At 10:30, McCulloch, Celler, and Katzenbach began work on a new compromise bill. McCulloch needed a bill that would have the support of the Judiciary Committee’s four liberal Republicans, or they would support Moore’s motion to send the strong bill to the floor.
The Joint Senate House Republican Leadership morning press conference addressed the congressional schedule, the relationship between the tax cut legislation and the civil rights bill, and the House subcommittee’s strong version of the bill.
Halleck reiterated that Republicans “have acted in good faith and have acted responsibly.” He continued:
Now I think it is quite obvious from all that has been done, things that have been said, the appearance of the Attorney General before the Judiciary Committee of the House, that the Kennedy Administration is deeply concerned about the bill that was drafted by the sub-committee.
Now, you ask me what the Republican position is. Well, I can’t speak for every Republican on the Judiciary Committee, because they will exercise their best judgment when the time comes. But it does seem to me that, as I indicated, it’s abundantly clear that the Kennedy Administration seems to be sticking pretty close to what they originally proposed when they sent the message up here, and I suppose without being too outspoken about it, that in very large measure that the present responsibility rests with the Democrats.
When asked if he had spoken to Republicans about modifying their position, Halleck said:
Well, there are ... understand that right now there is a motion pending in the Committee to report . . . I think it was called “drastic” by some people, that is a Subcommittee bill, and reference has been made to the Administration Bill as a strong bill. Now, as I say, we’ve had meetings, of course. I went to meetings at the White House before the message was ever set [sic] up here in respect to civil rights. I think I was down there three times doing what I could to lend what assistance I could to the development of a good program for civil rights.
Then the matter shifted to the Committee on Judiciary and apparently things were going very well there until all at once the Democrat members of the Subcommittee took it upon themselves to rewrite the whole proposed legislation. So, as I say, there has emerged from that Subcommittee action [t]hat I think the Kennedy Administration people themselves have referred to as “drastic.”
When asked if he would “ask your members on the Judiciary Committee to work for bi-partisan compromise,” Halleck said:
We have had meetings with our members of the Judiciary Committee as the Democrats have had meetings with theirs. And we shall have further meetings. As far as I’m concerned, I shall certainly understand that each member of that Committee, great Committee on Judiciary, has his own conscience to consider, his own convictions about what ought to be done, and I’m not going to undertake ... twist anybody’s arm in respect to what he ought to do. But certainly at the proper time and as we go along, my views will be made known to those members on our side and in an effort to try to work out something that would be in the best interest of the country.
Dirksen reiterated his opposition to Title II (public accommodations). He explained his stance:
The Supreme Court has consistently sustained the 1883 decision under which Congress has no authority under the 14th amendment to go into that domain. So now the emphasis is on the interstate commerce laws, but I can envision all sorts of difficulty and in the multiplicity of litigation that will spring from it and so that’s where we stand at the moment.
Dirksen foreshadowed another potential issue when he referred to the June meetings with the president when the question of including a Fair Employment Practices title came up, “and the President stated very definitely that they were not asking for that kind of inclusion in the bill—nor was there a request for the inclusion of Title III.” By this comment, Dirksen intimated that the White House would go back on its word if it permitted the House to expand the scope of the bill.
When the questioning returned to the House minority leader, Halleck again reviewed the situation faced by Subcommittee No. 5 and Democrats in redrafting the civil rights bill. He continued:
There was concern on the Republican side that after all maybe this was some kind of a device to put us in the position of being accused of emasculating the bill, or chopping down on some part of the civil rights program that some people would like to have enacted into law. I think it’s only fair to say that the President and the Attorney General and the Democrat Administration of President Kennedy have been out in front—and were out in front last night—when we were at the White House ... I didn’t suppose it was going to be in the papers, but it was ... but apparently they, the Kennedy Administration, is taking the lead in trying to get away from the Subcommittee Bill.
Minority Leader Halleck met with Republican members of the Judiciary Committee to determine how many votes he could get to defeat Moore’s motion in committee to report the strong bill to the House. The meeting ended with what Representative James Bromwell (R-IA) described as a “restless agreement” to oppose the Moore motion in the hope that a feasible alternative could be worked out.
President Kennedy called Halleck at 12:45 to hear the good news.
William McCulloch met with John Lindsay (R-NY), the leader of the Republican liberals on the Judiciary Committee, to work out a compromise that would convince the liberals to oppose Moore’s motion and accept a more moderate version of the subcommittee bill.
McCulloch and Lindsay met to go through the bill title by title, with both making concessions for the sake of compromise.
News coverage threatened to derail the compromise by casting Judiciary Committee Republicans as the obstacle to passing a bill. McCulloch left four negotiators to work out the issues at the Congressional Hotel. Joining Katzenbach and Burke Marshall were Judiciary Committee minority staff counsel William Copenhaver and Robert Kimball, aide to John Lindsay.
By Noon, the four men had achieved consensus involving the McCulloch-Lindsay draft, the original HR 7152, and the subcommittee version. The revised bill was weaker than the Subcommittee No. 5 version but stronger than the administration’s original bill.
As McCulloch rounded up Republican support, Justice Department stenographers typed the new 56-page measure, a compromise that was substantially stronger than the original HR 7152 but somewhat weaker than the subcommittee bill.
Provisions of the compromise bill:
Title I (Voting Rights): limited to federal elections only, and a three-judge federal court was permitted to hear voting rights cases if requested by the Attorney General.
4:00 p.m. President Kennedy met with 13 Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee to obtain their support for the compromise and to oppose the Moore motion to report out the strong subcommittee version of H.R. 1752. Although the president needed 10 of the 13 to support him, he had firm commitments from only three.
Judiciary Committee Republicans met in Minority Whip Les Arends’s office. The four liberals agreed to support the bill and oppose Moore’s motion. They were joined by five other Republicans in opposing that motion.
Following the meeting, Halleck and McCulloch drove to the White House to meet at 9:30 a.m. with the president, vice president, House Majority Leader Carl Albert, Celler, Katzenbach, and Burke Marshall. Halleck told Kennedy he had at least seven votes. The president claimed nine Democrats.
Those 16 votes were one short of the 17 needed to block the Moore motion. But Halleck had deliberately understated Republican support because he wanted the Democrats to provide at least half of their members so that Republicans would not get the blame for the defeat of the motion. His guarantee of seven votes fulfilled his promise of delivering half the Republicans. Now he wanted to see if the president would produce his half, or ten.
At 10:45 a.m., Celler called the Judiciary Committee to order in Room 346 of the Cannon House Office Building.
Leaving no detail to chance, the Justice Department scripted the chairman’s performance. The first step was a roll-call vote on Moore’s pending motion to send the liberal bill to the House floor. The number needed to defeat the motion was 17, half of the 34 votes available that morning (one of the committee’s 35 members was absent, and a motion fails on a tie vote). Because tradition dictated that the roll of the majority party be called first, the results of the president’s lobbying were soon clear. He got his 10 votes. A total of nine Republicans—two more than Halleck had promised—also voted against the motion, which was defeated 19-15.
The next step was for Celler to read the first sentence of the pending liberal bill, and then move to strike everything following it, in favor of the new 56-page compromise measure. Committee members had received copies of the new bill prior to the vote.
The next requirement was the reading of the new bill. The committee’s clerk finished that by 11:52 a.m., just eight minutes before the full House would convene and force the committee to adjourn. Celler raced through the remaining steps, giving himself 60 seconds to explain the bill, and McCulloch equal time, before Peter Rodino of New Jersey called for a vote and an end to all discussion.
Celler then ordered a vote on the new bill, which passed 20-14 just as the Noon bell sounded, announcing the start of the House floor session.
The bipartisan bill went beyond the administration's earlier requests by authorizing Justice Department suits to desegregate public facilities; by permitting the department to enter any civil rights suit pending in federal court; by requiring (rather than exhorting) government agencies to seek compliance with a nondiscrimination policy in federal programs; by establishing an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission covering most companies and labor unions; by requiring the Census Bureau to collect certain voting statistics by race; and by making reviewable a federal court action remanding a civil rights case to a state court.
But the full committee also removed some of the most liberal provisions of the subcommittee bill.
Although the Judiciary Committee had approved the bipartisan compromise, the southern Democrats on the committee stalled the writing of the official report of the bill until November 20, 1963.
President Kennedy issued the following statement:
The House Committee on the Judiciary, in approving a bipartisan civil rights bill today, has significantly improved the prospects for enactment of effective civil rights legislation in Congress this year. The bill is a comprehensive and fair bill.
It will provide effective legal remedies for racial discrimination in voting, education, public accommodations, employment, and Federal programs. It will provide the basis for men of good will in every city in our land to work together to resolve their racial problems within a framework of law and justice.
The bill must now pass through the House Rules Committee, be approved by the House, then by the Senate. I am hopeful this can be done as rapidly as possible.
From the very beginning, enactment of an effective civil rights bill has required that sectional and political differences be set aside in the interest of meeting an urgent national crisis. The action by the Committee today reflects this kind of leadership by the Speaker of the House, John McCormack, House Minority Leader, Charles Halleck, the Committee Chairman, Emanuel Celler, and the ranking Minority Member, William McCulloch.
President Kennedy’s statement following the House Judiciary Committee’s action
Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach later described the situation:
We very nearly failed because of a liberal-conservative coalition in the House Judiciary Committee, when the Southerners agreed to vote out the bill the liberals wanted. And they obviously agreed to it because they knew that when it got to the floor it would be recommitted, and there would be no civil rights bill. By working with the moderate and liberal Republicans and then getting enough of our Democratic liberals, we were able to defeat that ... .
Civil rights activists criticized the compromise bill. Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP said: “Today’s events are no cause for rejoicing but are a challenge to work to strengthen the bill.”
Sixty-eight Republicans—40 percent of the party’s conference—held a secret meeting to castigate Halleck and McCulloch for permitting the Democrats to escape political embarrassment. They had wanted a strong bill, with no chance of passage, to prevent the Democrats from fulfilling their promise to pass a civil rights bill before the 1964 presidential election.