Celler, Emanuel

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CELLER, EMANUEL (1888–1981), U.S. congressman. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Celler practiced law until 1922. In that year he ran for a seat in the House of Representatives in the 10th (now the 11th) congressional district of Brooklyn and became the first Democrat ever to be elected to Congress from there. In his freshman term, Celler became involved in the issue of immigration legislation, which was to remain one of the dominant concerns of his political career. Throughout the 1920s he was active in the fight to repeal the discriminatory features of the Immigration Act of 1924. He was a fervent supporter of Roosevelt's New Deal and established a consistently liberal voting record in Congress. An internationalist in foreign affairs, he became a champion of political Zionism in the 1940s and sought both on the floor of the House and elsewhere to commit the American government to a more pro-Zionist position. In 1948, as a result of his accumulated seniority, Celler was chosen chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He used this position to introduce liberal immigration legislation and a wide range of anti-trust laws. An early and vociferous opponent of McCarthyism, he voted steadily to deny appropriations to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Despite his positive record on civil rights and civil liberties however, his identification with the Democratic Party establishment disaffected many of his reform-minded constituents and in the late 1960s he narrowly survived several attempts to unseat him by Democratic insurgents. Celler was defeated in the primary in 1972, and thus ended a continuous service of 25 successive two-year terms of membership of the House of Representatives, a record not matched by any other member of Congress; he continued to practice law. He was chairman of the American Red Magen David from 1948.

[Fred Greenbaum (2nd ed.)]