John Conyers Jr., Longest-Serving African-American in Congressional History, Dies at 90
John Conyers Jr., an advocate of liberal causes for five decades and the longest-serving African-American in the history of Congress, has died. He was 90.
His death was confirmed by a family spokeswoman, Holly Baird.
Mr. Conyers, a Democrat, resigned in 2017 after accusations of unwelcome sexual advances by two women. His lawyers denied the accusations, but both Paul Ryan, a Republican and then the Speaker of the House, and Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader at the time and the current Speaker, found the complaints credible and demanded that he step down.
Mr. Conyers was the only member of the House Judiciary Committee to participate in impeachment inquiries against both Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.
In 1974, he said impeachment of Mr. Nixon was necessary “to restore to our government the proper balance of constitutional power and to serve notice on all future presidents that such abuse of power will never again be tolerated.”
But in 1998 he argued that Mr. Clinton’s relations with Monica Lewinsky did not merit impeachment. Republicans, he said, “say the president has to be impeached to uphold the rule of law, but we say the president can’t be impeached without denigrating the rule of law and devaluating the standard of impeachable offenses.”
“This is not Watergate,” he added. “It is an extramarital affair.”
But he died as one of many prominent men in politics, entertainment, and journalism.
A sharp critic of the Iraq War and the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act, Mr. Conyers talked of impeaching President George W. Bush in 2005. But Ms. Pelosi, the House minority leader, discouraged the idea as a distraction from Democratic efforts to win control of the House, and he dropped it before becoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee in 2007.
Mr. Conyers was always one of the most liberal members of the House. The liberal group Americans for Democratic Action rated his votes “liberal” 90 percent of the time over his career.
First elected in 1964 — after winning the Democratic nomination by only 108 votes — Mr. Conyers was an early critic of the Vietnam War, voting against money for it the following May. He was one of only seven representatives, all Democrats, who did.
His outspoken stands and congressional efforts tell the history of liberal causes over the last half-century.