House debate began. As floor manager for H.R. 6400, Emanuel Celler opened debate and said the measure would eliminate the “legal dodges and subterfuges” possible under existing legislation. He called the bill “impervious to all legal trickery and evasion.”
Rules Committee Chair Smith, a leading opponent of civil rights legislation, said the bill was an “unconstitutional” vendetta against the former Confederate states, that it was “dripping in venom,” and that its effect was to make of the Attorney General a “czar” with “almost unlimited power to investigate, to prosecute and to try and convict sovereign states … .”
The House Republican leadership moved to substitute a bill, H.R. 7896, for H.R. 6400. Their proposal would drop the poll-tax ban but authorize court action against discriminatory poll taxes and provided for the appointment of voting examiners.
Republicans might have succeeded except that southern Democrats rallied around the substitute as less objectionable than H.R. 6400. Republican members began to desert their leadership for fear that aligning with the southerners for the GOP bill would be taken as opposition to civil rights.
H.R. 7896 was defeated by 166-215 in a teller vote.
In a roll call vote on passage, the House approved H.R. 6400 by a vote of 333-85. Voting for passage were 112 Republicans and 221 Democrats. The final version contained an amendment which provided criminal penalties for falsifying voting or registration information or for buying votes in federal elections.
Because the House and Senate versions of the voting rights bill differed—especially because the House retained the poll-tax ban—the measure was sent to a conference committee.
The president issued a statement following House passage of the voting rights bill which read in part:
Thus we near the completion of a process almost as old as America itself. Our Revolution established the principle of democratic self-government—a reality for ourselves, a guiding hope for a world then drowned in monarchy and despotism. From that day to this we have labored and fought to extend the suffrage—the central mark of democratic dignity—to more of our people. Barrier after barrier--from property to sex—has fallen before the resistless progress of this most consistent political movement in American history. One major barrier alone remains, that of race and color. Now this too is tumbling.
Once this barrier is down, and if the right is fully exercised, we will enter a new and more hopeful stage in the progress of the Negro American. Possessing this most fundamental instrument of political redress, he can make his needs and his just demands heard and heeded in the politics and, ultimately, in the life of this land. We have been awakened to justice by the sound of songs and sermons, speeches and peaceful demonstrations. But the noiseless, secret vote will thunder forth a hundred times more loudly—inspiring the faithful, summoning the reluctant, and strengthening a Nation in its search for the promise of equality.
“Statement by the President Following Passage of the Voting Rights Bill by the House of Representatives”
Stalemate over the poll-tax ban was short-lived. On this date, the conferees agreed on a final form for the voting rights bill. The poll-tax ban from the House bill was dropped. The Senate proposal that the Attorney General seek court action against enforcement of state and local poll taxes was retained.
The compromise included a “finding” that poll taxes were used to discriminate in some areas and that the constitutional right to vote was “denied or abridged” by payment of the taxes as a pre-condition for voting. This language established the presumption of discrimination in places using the poll tax, signaling to the Supreme Court congressional support for a decision banning the device.
Poll taxes were banned in federal elections by the 24th amendment, ratified in 1964. State and local poll taxes were successfully challenged in a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1966.