Conyers back on Michigan ballot

 

A federal judge in Michigan on Friday ordered Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to be placed back on the state's Democratic primary ballot. 

The ruling reverses decisions by the secretary of State and a county clerk that made it appear likely that Conyers, one of the longest serving House members, would have to mount a write-in campaign. 

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U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Leitman ordered a preliminary injunction forcing the Wayne County election commission to place the longtime congressman back on the August ballot and have the secretary of state and the county clerk issue any necessary certification by next Thursday.  

The judge said he would issue a detailed opinion at a later date, but he hurried to file the injunction Friday to give all parties time to appeal, if necessary, to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals before the June 6 deadline to certify the ballot.

Earlier on Friday, the Michigan secretary of State had denied an appeal from Conyers because he did not have the necessary 1,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

Due to a Michigan state law that requires people gathering petition signatures to be registered in the state, more than 600 signatures for Conyers were tossed out because the people who helped collect them were not registered to vote in Michigan, the country clerk had said. 

Leitman wrote that the law that kept Conyers off the ballot was likely unconstitutional because it was not not narrowly tailored and violated the First Amendment, citing a nearly "indistinguishable" 2008 case Nader V. Blackwell

"Plaintiffs here have shown a substantial likelihood of success," he wrote, adding, "The State’s interest in combatting election fraud is compelling, but the State may protect that interest through a less restrictive means."

Leitman also said the Conyers campaign's failure to comply with the law appeared to be a good faith mistake. 

The ACLU, which helped file the lawsuit on behalf of a number of people who gathered signatures for Conyers, noted the Michigan legislature amended its election law regarding referendum petition signatures earlier this year after similar complaints. 

"Because the State could plainly achieve its compelling interest in preventing election fraud through this less restrictive means, the Registration Statute cannot survive strict scrutiny," the judge wrote, referencing the prior case. 

The 50-year incumbent will now face off against primary opponent Rev. Horace Sheffield III, who first challenged the petition signatures. The judge found the injunction did not give Conyers an "unfair advantage" over Sheffield because there was no evidence the challenger's campaign would have used unregistered voters  to gather signatures if the law were not in effect. 

"They similarly offer no evidence that their use of registered voters disadvantaged them in any way — by, for instance, requiring them to spend more time or money gathering signatures," he wrote. 

Conyers's campaign chair Bert Johnson, a Michigan state senator, called the decision a "decisive victory" and said he hopes it marks the end of the court challenges "because it is the right and fair opinion."

"I think one of the more tough challenges is in fact behind us," he told The Hill. 

This post was updated at 6:15 p.m.