WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he may grant a posthumous pardon to heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, adding to the list of high-profile celebrity pardons the president is openly considering.
But the conviction Ali would be pardoned for — evading the draft during the Vietnam War — was already overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. And Ali would also be covered by the blanket amnesty granted by President Carter in 1977.
But posthumous pardons are symbolic by their very nature, and if granted Ali’s would be just the fourth one granted in history.
Ali’s name came up as Trump chatted with reporters at the White House as he left for the G-7 summit in Canada. Asked about potential pardons, Trump said, “I’m thinking about Muhammad Ali.”
“The pardons are a very positive things for a president,” Trump said. “The power to pardon is a beautiful thing.”
And clearly, pardons have been on Trump’s mind. Last month, he pardoned another African-American heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson, for racially motivated charges related to his relationship with a white woman in 1913.
Trump also granted a commutation this week to 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson, releasing from prison a great-grandmother who was serving a life sentence for drug trafficking. Trump suggested Friday that he’s also looking at using his constitutional clemency power for more people like her.
“We have 3,000 names” he said. “Many of those names have been treated unfairly.”
Ali was convicted of violating the Selective Service Act for refusing to register for the draft in 1967. He appealed that conviction to the Supreme Court, which ruled he was entitled to conscientious objector status and overturned the conviction in an 8-0 decision.
President Carter later pardoned anyone who failed to register for the draft by Proclamation 4483 on his second day in office.
Trump and Ali had a complicated relationship before Ali died 2016. Ali once presented Trump with a humanitarian award in 2007, but later opposed Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay, converted to Islam in 1965 and cited his faith in refusing to register for the draft.
Ali’s attorney, Ron Tweel, declined to comment Friday.
All of Trump’s pardons so far have bypassed the traditional Justice Department process for investigating pardon applications, relying instead on appeals from political allies or celebrities. Jack Johnson’s pardon came at the request of actor Sylvester Stallone, and Alice Marie Johnson’s commutation came after an Oval Office meeting with reality television star Kim Kardashian.
“I thought Kim Kardashian was great because she brought Alice to my attention,” he said. “Better than any celebrity I could pardon.”
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