In his first address to a joint session of Congress on November 27, 1963, Johnson told the legislators, "No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy's memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long." Judiciary Committee chairman Celler filed a petition to discharge the bill from the Rules Committee; it required the support of a majority of House members to move the bill to the floor.Initially Celler had a difficult time acquiring the signatures necessary, with many congressmen who supported the civil rights bill itself remaining cautious about violating normal House procedure with the rare use of a discharge petition.
The president's bill went first to the House of Representatives, where it was referred to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Emanuel Celler, a Democrat from New York.
With six wavering senators providing a four-vote victory margin, the final tally stood at 71 to 29.
Never in history had the Senate been able to muster enough votes to cut off a filibuster on a civil rights bill.
Smith, a Democrat and avid segregationist from Virginia, indicated his intention to keep the bill bottled up indefinitely. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, changed the political situation.
Kennedy's successor as president, Lyndon Johnson, made use of his experience in legislative politics, along with the bully pulpit he wielded as president, in support of the bill.