John Conyers’ Last Chance to Get Back on the Ballot

The tenure of the longest-serving black congressman is in jeopardy without a judge’s help.

Rep. John Conyers speaks at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit Sept. 16, 2013. 
Rep. John Conyers speaks at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit Sept. 16, 2013.  Scott Legato/Getty Images


The News: Longtime Michigan Rep. John Conyers is expected to ask a federal judge in Detroit on Wednesday to put his name back on the Democratic primary ballot.

Conyers, the longest-serving African American in Congress, is challenging the decision of the Wayne County, Mich., clerk that he didn’t submit enough signatures for his name to appear on the ballot for Aug. 5. The clerk invalidated more than 400 signatures, causing Conyers to fall short of the required 1,000, because the collectors of those names were not registered voters. State law requires petition circulators to be registered voters.

Conyers joined a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the petition circulators. The ACLU argues that the law is unconstitutional because it violates the petition circulators’ rights to free speech and political association.

The validity of the signatures was challenged by Conyers’ primary opponent, the Rev. Horace Sheffield III. If Conyers’ name is kept off the ballot, he will have to conduct a write-in bid, for which the Conyers campaign manager says the team is “fully prepared.”

Last week Conyers’ re-election bid, in light of his legal fight, received the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, which Conyers co-founded, and President Barack Obama, by way of the Democratic National Committee.

The Take: You’d think that after doing this 25 times, Conyers would have it down pat. You’d think the distinction of becoming the longest-serving member of Congress, should he win a 26th term this year, would be incentive enough to do it right.

But this is John Conyers, whose tall legislative achievements and enduring ideological vigor at 85 years of age are matched by his wont for aloof and lazy handling of administrative details, not to mention an embarrassing knack for ethical and personal troubles.

At Conyers’ orders, his staff members baby-sat his children and—in violation of ethics rules governing Congress and every other elected office at any level, anywhere in the United States—worked on political campaigns, including that of his wife, Monica (more on her later).