Colorado Editorials

The Colorado Springs Gazette: Ali pardon would have no power

Author: The Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board - June 19, 2018 - Updated: June 19, 2018

Pardon: “The action of an executive official of the government that mitigates or sets aside the punishment for a crime.”

That is the definition as applied to a pardon issued by the president of the United States or any other government official.

Such pardons have been issued in the hundreds or even the thousands by every U.S. president. They have been hailed and they have been disdained (such as when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon), but never have they gone to someone who has nothing to be pardoned for – except for a Thanksgiving turkey.

Until now, that is.

Last Friday, President Donald Trump alluded that he was considering pardoning Muhammad Ali, and the media ate it up. One headline reads “Trump’s idea to pardon Muhammad Ali is weird and beside the point.”

Well said.

To pardon the late boxing champ would be a fine gesture, but a confusing and constitutionally awkward move that even Ali’s ex-wife finds unnecessary.

Why? Because Ali is innocent.

On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of violating Selective Service laws for refusing to serve in Vietnam as a conscientious objector. He was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000.

On June 28, 1971, the Supreme Court reversed Ali’s conviction, rendering him innocent.

So the million-dollar question: Why does the president feel the need to pardon an innocent man? And for what is this innocent man being pardoned?

If a pardon is to be used for mitigating a punishment, then it is meaningless when there is no punishment to mitigate. And if there is no crime of which a person is guilty, then the pardon loses all of its legal weight.

So what is it then? What do you call a pardon that has no power? One could call it a nice gesture and a sign of sentiment, or perhaps paying homage to the boxing legend’s memory near the anniversary of his sentencing. Whatever you call it, it isn’t a pardon.

“There’s no necessary need for a pardon,” says Ali’s ex-wife, Khalilah Ali. Instead, Trump should consider “pardoning” the NFL athletes who have faced criticism and punishment for kneeling during the National Anthem. “That would be putting it in the right perspective and in the right place,” she added, equating Ali’s conscientious objection with their silent protest against police brutality and racial discrimination.

For Khalilah, Trump’s gesture is about principles. A kind gesture toward being willing to stand up for freedom and what is right. But if the president truly cares about her late ex-husband’s principles, she says, he should pardon someone who is alive. Pardoning Muhammad Ali is kind, “but it’s a little too late for that.”

The Colorado Springs Gazette Editorial Board