Born in Detroit in May 1929, John Conyers Jr. was a longtime Democratic Member of Congress who represented the 14th District of Michigan, a majority-black district which included roughly half of Detroit, most of Dearborn (with America’s largest Arab-American community), and all of Hamtramck. Conyers chaired the powerful House Judiciary Committee from 2007-11.
Conyers worked from 1959-61 as a legislative assistant to Detroit congressman John Dingell, and from 1961-64 as a politically appointed referee of the Michigan Workmen’s Compensation Department.
In 1964 Conyers ran for Congress. He won the Democratic primary by a mere 44 votes, and then won the general election in a Democrat-gerrymandered district by more than 110,000 votes, capturing 84% of all the ballots that were cast. After that, Conyers was re-elected every two years through 2016. By the time he stepped down from office in 2017, he had served 53 years in the House of Representatives.
Conyers belonged to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and in 1969 he was one of 13 co-founders of the Congressional Black Caucus. His voting record, according to Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), tilted left between 90 and 100 percent of the time.
For an overview of Conyers’ votes on a variety of key issues, click here.
Conyers had longstanding, close ties to the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and, before that, to the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC), from which DSA emerged in 1982. Some examples:
In the 1980s Conyers strongly backed Nicaragua’s Marxist Sandinista dictatorship. In a March 7, 1986 letter published in the New York Times, he accused the Reagan Administration of conducting a “campaign of disinformation about Nicaragua.” Some key excerpts:
Conyers long favored reducing or ending U.S. economic sanctions and travel restrictions against Fidel Castro’s Cuba, for whose Marxist regime the congressman helped arrange an opportunity to lobby members of Congress in their Capitol Hill offices in 1997. Some examples of Conyers’s positions vis-a-vis Cuba:
Conyers described the Motor-Voter Bill of 1993, which facilitated the voter-registration process for people applying for a state driver’s license or for welfare or other government benefits, as one of his major accomplishments. That legislation subsequently contributed heavily to voter-registration fraud.
Conyers deliberately designed legislation to treat citizens of different skin colors differently. One such law, the End Racial Profiling Act of 2001, required police officers to keep statistics on the race of people they questioned or arrested, in order to discourage “racial profiling” of nonwhite minorities.
In May 2002 Conyers was one of 17 House Democrats who voted against a Resolution (HR 392) expressing support for Israel as it faced terrorist attacks that had killed more than 600 civilians, including several Americans.
Two months later, Conyers privately convened — and invited other members of Congress to — a gathering that featured Ramsey Clark and more than two-dozen leftist attorneys and legal scholars; the purpose of the meeting was to discuss how to impeach President George W. Bush as a way to prevent military action against Saddam Hussein. Two decades earlier, Conyers had similarly proposed impeaching President Ronald Reagan for ordering the October 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada.
Conyers viewed the United States as a nation where where anti-black bigotry was rampant. Author and broadcaster Larry Elder writes that when a reporter once asked Conyers why the majority-black “Eight Mile Road” section of his own congressional district was overrun with crime, poverty, drug abuse, and out-of-wedlock births, while a majority-Arab neighborhood in nearby Dearborn was thriving economically, Conyers replied: “Racism.”
In May 2005, Conyers published What Went Wrong In Ohio: The Conyers Report on the 2004 Presidential Election. Citing statistical incongruities between exit-poll results and actual votes registered, and alleging that many of the state’s electronic voting machines were faulty, this screed cast doubt on the legitimacy of George W. Bush’s electoral victory. Conyers was one of 31 House members who demanded that Ohio’s electoral votes not be counted in the final tally.
On June 16, 2005, Conyers scheduled a media event to deliver to the Bush White House what he described as “over 540,000 signatures from Americans demanding a response from the Administration to the charges set forth” in the so-called Downing Street Memo, which indicated that the U.S. and Britain, in an effort to justify an invasion of Iraq, had tampered with intelligence reports about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs. Conyers publicized his efforts via a carefully orchestrated schedule of pre-arranged interviews with such media outlets as CNN, National Public Radio, and Air America Radio (most notably on programs hosted by Al Franken and Amy Goodman). Conyers also acknowledged the strong support that his signature campaign had received from such weblogs as Raw Story, BradBlog, DailyKos, Democratic Underground, Progressive Democrats of America, and Moveon.org.
Conyers was a longtime ally of the notoriously corrupt, pro-socialist, community organization ACORN. In the fall of 2008, he said that ACORN was “a long-standing and well-regarded organization that fights for the poor and working class.” ACORN, meanwhile, gave Conyers a 100 percent rating on its 2006 legislative scorecard, and in the summer of 2008 the congressman received enthusiastic applause as he addressed the group’s national convention in Detroit and denounced U.S. corporations as “capitalist predators.”
On June 26, 2009, Conyers’ wife, Monica, a Detroit City Council member, pleaded guilty to felony bribery charges and was sentenced to a prison term. At issue was the fact that she had cast the deciding vote in favor of having her city award a massive sludge-hauling contract to Synagro Technologies Inc — after she had been bitterly and publicly opposed to that same contract for some time. According to Mrs. Conyers’s plea agreement with the Justice Department: “During the summer and winter of 2007, both before and after her vote, [the] defendant received cash payments … from an individual sent by Rayford Jackson, a paid consultant for Synagro. Jackson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery 10 days ago…. [His] payments to Monica Conyers totaled at least $6,000, according to news reports.”
In a July 2009 speech at a National Press Club luncheon, Conyers suggested that it was unimportant whether or not legislators read the 2,000-page health-care bill (Obamacare) which was then being debated by Congress. Said Conyers: “I love these members [of Congress], they get up and say, ‘Read the bill.’ What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”
In March 2010, during the debate over health-care reform legislation, a media interviewer asked Conyers the following question: “The individual mandate in the bill requires individuals to purchase health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office [CBO] has said that never before in the history of the United States has the federal government required any one to purchase any good or service. What part of the Constitution do you think gives Congress the authority to mandate individuals to purchase health insurance?” To this, Conyers replied: “Under several clauses, the good and welfare clause and a couple others. All the scholars, the constitutional scholars that I know — I’m chairman of the Judiciary Committee, as you know — they all say that there’s nothing unconstitutional in this bill and if there were, I would have tried to correct it if I thought there were.”
In March 2013 Conyers spoke about America’s national debt and said: “Let me let you understand, first of all, that the debt is not endangering us a bit — not at all. Our economists say we’re in debt but it’s not endangering everything. As a matter of fact, there are economists that say some debt is not a bad idea at all. So all those ideas about the ceiling falling, the walls caving in because of that, you can sleep more comfortably in your bed at night when you realize that we don’t think there’s a problem.”
On October 21, 2013, Conyers stated that the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare) was “a very small and modest bill,” and that congressional Democrats were already contemplating ways to pass “universal healthcare for everybody, single payer.” “That’s what the new direction is,” said Conyers.
In May 2014, Conyers was one of 14 Democratic members of Congress who, ahead of a House vote which was scheduled for the following day, publicly voiced opposition to a bill that was designed to authorize unilateral U.S. sanctions against communist Venezuela. As the Associated Press reported: “The bill instructs the Obama administration to compile a list of human rights abusers in the Venezuelan government, freeze their assets, and ban them from the United States. Foreign relations committees [led by Republicans] in the House and Senate have overwhelmingly approved it. Administration officials are opposed. They say sanctions risk undermining mediation efforts in Venezuela and straining relations between the U.S. and Latin American partners. The Democrats led by Michigan Rep. John Conyers wrote a letter to President Barack Obama Tuesday backing his administration.”
In February 2016, Conyers spoke out in opposition to H.R. 3892, the “Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015,” which sought to have the U.S. government formally identify the Brotherhood as a terrorist group. “[S]ince swearing off violence in the 1950s,” said Conyers, “the Brotherhood has become a predominantly non-violent religious, political, and social service organization.”
In November 2017, Politico.com reported on a series of explosive news stories claiming that Conyers had sexually molested a number of women over the years. Said Politico:
“Buzzfeed [has] reported … that Conyers ‘repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Conyers reportedly ‘used congressional resources to fly in women they believed he was having affairs with,’ according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed. Another Conyers aide ‘said she was tasked with driving women to and from Conyers’ apartment and hotel rooms.’ Conyers allegedly paid $27,000 in public funds to a female employee who contacted the secretive Office of Compliance with allegations about the Michigan Democrat.”
It was subsequently learned that in court documents filed earlier in 2017, another woman, Maria Reddick, had accused Conyers of harassing her while she was employed as his scheduler. From this point forward, things only got worse for the congressman:
As a result of these and other allegations, on December 5, 2017 Conyers announced his retirement from Congress. In his resignation letter, Rep. Conyers said: “I’ve been a champion of justice for the oppressed and the disenfranchised.”
Shortly after Conyers’s retirement announcement, yet another woman stepped forward with sexual-misconduct allegations against the congressman. The accuser, Delores Lyons, claimed that when she had served as a volunteer for Conyers from 2010-14, Conyers touched her buttocks on one occasion, and placed her hand on his crotch in a separate instance when she was driving with him. “This seemed to be a game to Rep. Conyers as he thought he could cop a feel wherever and whenever he wanted and no one would ever do anything about it,” Lyons recalled. Lyons also claimed that a woman named Marion Brown, a cousin of Elisa Grubbs, had “confided in me on multiple occasions that Rep. Conyers repeatedly made sexual advances toward her.” “Rep. Conyers black balled Ms. Brown and ruined her political career because she rejected his inappropriate sexual advances,” Lyons said in an affidavit.
When Conyers stepped down from Congress, he appointed his 27-year-old son, John Conyers III, to run for his vacated seat. Conyers III had long been aware of his father’s infidelities, as evidenced by this tweet which the son had posted a few years earlier: “My dad is a f***ing player and reckless as hell! He just got at this doods wife super low-key.”
Conyers III ran as a Democrat against his father’s grand-nephew, state senator Ian Conyers, in a race whose first phase would consist of the Democratic Party’s upcoming primary on August 7, 2018. But in May 2018, Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett removed Conyers III’s name from the primary ballot because he had failed to submit the 1,000 valid petition signatures that were required in order to qualify. Conyers III responded by running not as a Democrat but as an unaffiliated candidate, and in July 2018 he submitted approximately 5,600 signatures in order to get his name placed on the primary ballot. But County Clerk Garrett informed him that state law barred anyone from filing as an independent for an election held during the same calendar year in which he or she had already filed for a partisan primary for the same office. The ultimate winner of the race for John Conyers’s vacated congressional seat was Democrat Rashida Tlaib.
In addition to his activities as a Member of Congress, John Conyers served many years as an executive board member of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Detroit chapter (starting in 1964), and of the NAACP’s Detroit chapter (starting in 1963). He was also a member of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national executive board member of the National Lawyers Guild, and an advisory committee member of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Conyers died on October 27, 2019, at his home in Detroit.
In 2019, Democratic lawmakers credited the late congressman for his efforts, over the course of nearly 30 years, to promote reparations for slavery by repeatedly reintroducing legislation calling on Congress to study the issue.
Over the years, Conyers received several donations from high-ranking officials and/or board members of Islamist organizations. Specifically, from 1998-2010 he received a total of $7,900 in contributions from individuals affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Muslim Students Association.