Pardons have been at the front of President Donald Trump’s mind lately. He recently pardoned Jack Johnson, the legendary boxer who was convicted in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines. And now he’s considering another legendary boxer for a pardon: Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016 of Parkinson’s disease.
But there’s a little problem with offering to pardon Muhammad Ali: he doesn’t actually need a pardon. On Friday morning, after Trump mentioned his interest in pardoning Ali, Ali’s lawyer Ron Tweel responded with some pertinent information that the president may have been missing.
— Paul Miles (@PaulMiles840) June 8, 2018
To be pardoned, you need to have been convicted of a crime. And even though Ali was convicted, the Supreme Court overturned it. That means the conviction no longer exists, so there’s nothing Ali needs to be pardoned for.
Ali’s now nonexistent conviction was for draft evasion. In 1966, Ali was drafted into the military to serve in the Vietnam War. But he had converted to Islam in 1964 (changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali), and refused to serve for religious reasons. He applied as a conscientious objector, but his application was denied. When he refused to be inducted into the military, he was charged with draft evasion and convicted in June of 1967.
Ali was sentenced to five years in prison, but appealed the decision. When the Supreme Court heard his case in 1971, all eight judges ruled in Ali’s favor. The unanimous decision overturned Ali’s 1967 conviction, meaning his application for conscientious objector status should have been granted and he was not a draft dodger.
To want to pardon Ali is kind sentiment. Trump just pardoned Jack Johnson, and he obviously has boxing, a sport he loves, on his mind. But to pardon someone, they need to have a conviction on the books, and Muhammad Ali’s conviction hasn’t existed since 1971.
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