Two landmark pieces of legislation – the “Every Student Succeeds Act” of 2015 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – are demonstrative of the significant procedural processes and steps that the Congress may – or must – go through in order to usher a bill through the legislative process. This essay explores the process for both of these pieces of legislation, detailing the importance of particular procedural steps along the way of their crafting.
First, the Every Student Succeeds Act. On April 30, 2015, the Senate HELP Committee reported an original bill – S. 1177 – and on July 7, by unanimous consent, the Senate proceeded to it. The bill was crafted between Committee Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray so as to pass the Republican-controlled Congress. The bill was pending for debate and amendment through mid-July, with 81 amendments considered – 73 agreed to, 7 rejected, and 1 withdrawn. On July 13, a cloture motion was filed on Sen. Alexander’s substitute amendment, 2089, and also on the underlying bill. Meanwhile, on July 15, there were unanimous consent agreements on Managers’ packages and other amendments to secure the support from various Members.
On the 16th of July, Sen. Alexander’s amendment 2089, as amended, is agreed to. Cloture on S. 1177, as amended by Alexander #2089, was also agreed to. The bill, as amended in the substitute, was passed that day.
On November 16, the House adopted H. Res. 527 – a self-executing rule to amend and pass the Senate bill, and for the House to insist on its own amendment and request a conference. This demonstrated the considerable “power” that a self-executing rule may have in consideration of the other chamber’s sent legislation. However, on November 18, Majority Leader McConnell moved that the Senate disagree to House amendment and agree to a conference. He filed cloture on that motion. Notably, by unanimous consent, the cloture vote occurred immediately and cloture was invoked. The motion as then agreed to by voice vote.
Through November, the conferees met, and on November 30 a conference report was filed. Then, through the early weeks of December, both chambers took up consideration of the report – with the House voting to pass the report on December 2, and the Senate passing the report on December 9. The next day, December 10, President Obama signed the bill into law.
The history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is equally interesting, with significant procedural steps demonstrated throughout the process of its drafting, negotiation, and consideration. In June 1963, the House Judiciary Chairman introduced H.R. 7152 by request of the Kennedy Administration; the Senate Majority Leader introduced a companion bill – S. 1731 – also by request. Hearings were held in the House Judiciary subcommittee through September, with the bill reported on October 1st. The Committee then held a markup on the 10th, with Rep. Moore moving to report the bill. On the 29th, his motion was defeated 19-15, opening room for Rep. Celler’s compromise legislation of revised scope to be considered. This compromise bill passed, 20-14.
However, the Rules Committee did not take action on the bill throughout November. This forced Rep. Celler to begin a discharge petition, which was signed by 178 Members, on December 9. This was a significant procedural step to move the legislation through the chamber despite opposition from leadership – the conservative Chairman Rep. Smith, who was hostile to the bill – in the Rules Committee. On January 30, 1964, after three months in the Rules Committee, the Rule – H. Res. 616 – was reported. The rule, an open rule, generated a significant amount of amendments (nearly 100 considered over 9 days of session) and resulted many days of debate. Notably, open rules were common in this era of Congress, particularly on legislation of magnitude such as the Civil Rights Act.
There were re-votes on three amendments adopted in the Committee of the Whole, and a motion to recommit – a significant “last ditch” attempt at stalling or killing the legislation – which failed by voice vote. The legislation passed the House 290-130, and was received in the Senate on February 25. Majority Leader Mansfield used Senate Rule XIV to bypass the Senate Judiciary Committee and expedite the legislation’s consideration. Significantly, while this rule often involves cooperation between Leadership and Committee Chairmen, it can also – as demonstrated here – be used to circumvent the committee process and potentially hostile committees.
On March 9, Sen. Mansfield attempted to make a motion to proceed in the Morning Hour – which would’ve amounted to it being non-debatable – but Senator Russell (D-GA) filibustered until the Morning Hour expired, enabling debate. The Motion was finally agreed to on March 26, by a vote of 67-17. Senate amendments began and ran through April, delaying further consideration of the bill. Finally, Sen. Russell agrees that voting on amendments may begin on May 6. On May 26, agreement on a bipartisan package led Sens. Mansfield and Dirksen to introduce a substitute for H.R. 7152. To end debate, leadership began with a base of 58 votes, needing 9 of 14 other possible votes. On June 8, Sen. Mansfield files for cloture – a significant moment, as it signaled that the bill would pass and because it was rare in that era that cloture was ever invoked. After cloture was filed, there was a “torrent of amendments” filed and voted on. Sen. Byrd held a 14 hour speech against the bill. Nonetheless, on June 10, cloture was achieved with a vote of 71-29. Post-cloture, 117 amendments were voted on between June 10 and 19 (as there was no post-cloture cap in 1964). Finally, on June 19, the bill passes 73-27 – with nearly a third of the year passing between the Sen. Mansfield offering the motion to proceed and final passage.
On June 22, the House received the Senate amendment to H.R. 7152 – Reps. Celler and McCulloch wanted to avoid a conference, and considered proceeding on consideration of the amendments under suspension. Instead, they filed H. Res. 789, a self-executing rule to agree to the Senate amendments. This significant procedural play would expedite and enable the consideration process of the Senate’s amendments to the bill. A June 30 hearing on H. Res. 789 occurred on June 30, with Rep. Smith losing control of the committee. That day, the Committee reported the rule 10-5. On July 2, the House adopted the rule and agreed to the Senate amendment 289-126. That day, President Johnson signed the bill into law.