Sunday, June 5, 2016

When the Highest Court in the Land Ruled for the Greatest: Clay v. United States

Supreme Court Overturned Ali’s Conviction for Failing to Serve in the Military

After declining to be inducted because he was a conscientious objector, Muhammad Ali was convicted in federal court in 1967 of failing to submit to induction into the armed forces. He faced a fine and a jail term, and was stripped of his boxing titles and unable to box for several years. Ali’s conviction was affirmed by the court of appeals the following year.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Ali’s favor in 1971. The government conceded in the Supreme Court that Ali’s belief was both based on his religion and sincere, two of the three requirements to sustain conscientious objector status. This allowed the Court to reverse the judgment because it was unclear upon which basis Ali’s claim had been decided by the State Appeal Board.

In pursuing his conscientious objector status, Ali engaged in the freedom of conscience that is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. He also accepted the consequences of his actions without bitterness and with grace. According to news reports, when asked after his Supreme Court victory if he intended to sue after being kept out of boxing while his case was appealed, he said no -- both sides did what they thought was right.