Donald Trump said on Friday that he may grant a posthumous pardon to Muhammad Ali, seemingly unaware that the great boxer's conviction was overturned by the supreme court 47 years ago.
Departing for the G7 summit in Canada, the president told reporters at the White House he was looking at “thousands of names” of people who could be granted clemency.
Ali refused to enter the military during the Vietnam war and his local draft board rejected his application for classification as a conscientious objector. He received a draft-evasion conviction in 1967 and was stripped of his world heavyweight title.
“He was, look, he was not very popular then, certainly his memory is popular now,” Trump said. “I’m thinking about that very seriously, and some others.”
Ali was sentenced to five years in prison but he appealed and in 1971 the supreme court overturned his conviction, finding that the justice department improperly told the draft board Ali’s stance was not motivated by his religious beliefs as a Muslim. Trump’s gesture is therefore meaningless.
Ali’s lawyer, Ron Tweel, said: “We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The US supreme court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”
Trump recently granted a posthumous pardon to the first African American heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, who was convicted in 1913 of violating a law that made it illegal to transport women across state lines for "immoral" purposes.
Earlier this week, he also commuted the life sentence of a woman whose cause was championed by Kim Kardashian West.
“The power to pardon is a beautiful thing,” Trump told reporters. “I want to do people who are unfairly treated like Alice [Marie Johnson].”
Trump has also floated a possible pardon for TV personality Martha Stewart and potentially commuting the sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on corruption charges in 2011.
Ali died two years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona, aged 74. – Guardian service