Donald Trump has come under fire in recent days for what many see as abuses of his pardon powers. While it is not required that a president wait for a recommendation from the Office of the Pardon Attorney to issue one, it is generally accepted as a matter of course that they will. Trump’s pardons of Dinesh D’Souza (who pled guilty to campaign finance violations) and Rob Blagojevich (who, among other crimes, attempted to sell the state senate vacancy left by Barack Obama when he became a U.S. Senator) have been seen as both a way of pleasing conservative voters and a message to the people from his campaign who’ve been charged with crimes.
His latest statements about future pardons, however, are far more confusing. On Friday morning before departing for the G7 Summit, Trump told reporters that he’s considering another pardon.
President Trump says he is considering a posthumous pardon for Muhammad Ali. The boxing great was convicted in 1967 after refusing to serve in Vietnam. https://t.co/NuE4B7qkkS pic.twitter.com/xl0qrqow4Q
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) June 8, 2018
However, it is unclear what for which Trump is considering a pardon for Ali. He was convicted for draft evasion during the Vietnam War when he refused to serve because of his religious beliefs, but the Supreme Court overturned that conviction in 1971. HBO aired a movie about this in 2013 called Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.
Had Ali’s conviction not been overturned, President Jimmy Carter pardoned every man who resisted the draft during the Vietnam War in 1977, just one day after his inauguration.
Muhammad Ali was also vehemently opposed to the kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric pushed by Trump during his presidential campaign, when he called for a ban on all Muslims traveling to the United States and advocated for the police and investigation of mosques to prevent terrorism.
An abuse of a president’s pardon powers is despicable, but announcing the potential posthumous pardon of a man who died with absolutely no convictions on his record is just baffling. It’s clear that Trump likes to talk about any of his policies that have benefitted black Americans to deflect from his racist and xenophobic statements from the past, but this particular offer of aid to a black man is as confusing as it is enraging.
The NAACP cites statistics that show:
‘African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites. African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.’
In fact, they say that “if African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites,
prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.” So pardons, in fact, are necessary and prison sentences that keep black Americans incarcerated for their entire lives are still being served.
Yet Trump would rather try to gain some kind of popularity points for pardoning a celebrity who does not need one and would advocate for the pardon of other black citizens even if there were still a conviction on his record when he died.
Ali’s lawyer, Ron Tweel, tweeted about the announcement shortly following Trump’s statement.
NEW: Muhammad Ali pardon is "unnecessary" according to the late boxer's attorney. "The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed." https://t.co/E1vYWXunjo pic.twitter.com/t3fzw8R8Go
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) June 8, 2018
Ali’s family has yet to make a statement on Trump’s announcement, but it’s not hard to imagine the confusion and anger they will most likely feel at the news.
Featured image via Getty/Chip Somodevilla