Veteran lawmaker Rep. John Conyers Jr. breathed a sigh of relief Friday after a federal judge ordered the 25-term Michigan congressman's name to be added to the Aug. 5 Democratic primary ballot. Just 10 days prior, Michigan election officials disqualified Conyers, who serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, from appearing on the ballot due to issues associated with his nominating petitions.
Hours after Conyers lost his appeal seeking to be restored to the ballot, Judge Matthew Leitman of the Federal District Court issued an injunction Friday afternoon in Conyers' favor "because time is of the essence," explaining that the congressman's “failure to comply with the registration statute was the result of good-faith mistakes.”
The 85-year-old lawmaker was initially deemed ineligible to appear on the ballot due to his "failure to submit a minimum of 1,000 valid signatures."
"The Court believes it is essential to issue this order now – prior to issuance of a supporting Opinion – in order to provide any party who may wish to appeal as much time as possible in which to do so and in order to maximize the time in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit may have to review any possible appeal," the ruling said. Leitman promised to issue an opinion explaining the legal reasoning behind his decision "as soon as possible."
In a statement released by his campaign, Conyers applauded the judge's decision:
"Judge [Leitman's] decision affirms that all should have equal entry and access to the political process. I am thankful that we now have an opportunity to have a more vigorous discussion about the issues that affect us all. I always felt that democracy would win," his campaign wrote.
Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said last week that Conyers used a number of unqualified people – namely, those not registered to vote – to collect a substantial portion of his petition signatures. In his Friday decision, Judge Leitman cited an opinion from a 2008 case, Nader v. Blackwell, which deemed a similar voter registration requirement law in Ohio unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
Conyers, who has been in Congress since 1965, is the longest-serving African-American in Congress. Last week, President Obama, along with other top Democratic leaders, endorsed the lawmaker's re-election bid.
"We have continued to build momentum in the campaign," said Conyers' campaign manager, Bert Johnson. "People from all over the city, the state, the nation and world have stepped up to support Mr. Conyers. They recognize his outstanding legislative and civil rights history. Interestingly enough, this campaign was energized by the earlier questions surrounding his candidacy. People could just not imagine this congressional servant not being there when people needed him."
If re-elected, Conyers is set to become the longest-serving member of Congress once Rep. John Dingell, another Michigan Democratic congressman, retires at the end of of his current term.