Muhammad Ali’s former lawyer has a message for President Donald Trump, who said Friday that he is considering posthumously pardoning the boxing legend: Thanks but no thanks.
“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary,” Ron Tweel said Friday in a statement.
Ali, who was known as Cassius Clay before converting to Islam, was sentenced to five years in jail and fined $10,000 for refusing to enter the U.S. military when he was drafted during the Vietnam War.
The Supreme Court overturned the professional boxer’s conviction in 1971. Additionally, in 1977, President Jimmy Carter pardoned everyone who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.
Ali’s refusal to join the military on the basis of his religion stirred national controversy, but he remained firm in his beliefs despite pressure from both the public and boxing organizations.
“My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America,” Ali said at the time. “They never called me nigger, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father. ... Just take me to jail.”
Ali’s local draft board rejected the boxer’s application as a conscientious objector. Ali was arrested and later convicted for refusing to report for induction into the military, although he never spent time in jail. He lost his boxing licenses for three years until the New York Supreme Court ordered his licenses be reinstated in 1970.
Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, said Trump should reconsider his “anti-Muslim and Islamophobic policies and rhetoric” instead of pardoning Ali.
Trump could benefit from being associated with helping Ali, a figure who transcended sports, said Jeffrey Crouch, an American University assistant professor who studies presidential pardons.
However, he said, there are potential downsides to pardoning people who are no longer alive.
“It’s unclear to me whether pardoning deceased individuals is the best use of the president’s time when there are many, many other people who are still living that would benefit immensely from presidential mercy,” Crouch said.
Trump said Friday that he is considering 3,000 people for pardons.
Trump has so far pardoned five people: conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, the long-deceased boxer Jack Johnson, former White House adviser I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former U.S. Navy sailor Kristian Saucier and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He also commuted the sentences of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug crime, and Sholom Rubashkin, a kosher meat producer convicted of fraud.
And as pressure has increased during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference with the presidential election, Trump and his legal team have also asserted that the president could pardon himself.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Crouch.