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Fact-Check of the Day: Trump Considers Pardoning Muhammad Ali, Whose Conviction Was Already Overturned


Fact-Check of the Day

President Trump said he was “doing recommendations on Muhammad Ali.” In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s draft evasion conviction, and President Jimmy Carter issued a blanket amnesty in 1977.

June 8, 2018

what was said

“There will be more pardons. … In fact, we’re doing, right now, recommendations on — you know, frankly, we’re doing recommendations on Muhammad Ali.”

Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters on Friday.


This requires context.

Muhammad Ali, the boxing great who died in 2016, was convicted of draft evasion in 1967. The Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction in 1971.

Ali had twice failed Army aptitude tests during the Vietnam War. But he was deemed eligible for military service in 1966, after the Selective Service lowered its qualifications. Ali refused to be drafted and applied to be classified as a conscientious objector, citing his religious beliefs.

“I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong,” he told reporters.

He was stripped of his heavyweight championship titles and boxing licenses, and convicted of draft evasion. He appealed.

The case made its way up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Ali’s favor in an 8-to-0 vote on June 29, 1971. In its decision, the court called the Justice Department “simply wrong as a matter of law” to not consider Ali’s argument that he was a conscientious objector based on his religious beliefs and sincerely held views.

With that, Ali’s conviction was void.

In 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued a “full, complete and unconditional pardon” for most who violated draft laws.

In theory, Mr. Trump could issue another pardon for Ali’s draft evasion conviction, but the boxer’s family or his lawyer could reject it.

“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary,” Ron Tweel, a lawyer for Ali’s estate and family, said in a statement on Friday.

Ali was also charged in 1967 with traffic violations — making an improper left turn and driving without a license — but Mr. Trump can pardon only federal crimes.

In his comments on Friday, Mr. Trump said he was looking at a list of what he described as 3,000 names of people who could be pardoned because “some folks that have sentences that aren’t fair.”

Jeffrey Couch, a law professor at American University and the author of a book on presidential pardons, questioned why Mr. Trump was undertaking the legal project now.

“One way to interpret this is that he’s using clemency


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