Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight: Cassius Clay vs. the United States of America


Everyone remembers Cassius Clay as the great fighter : an inspiration and a winner. LegalNow celebrates his life by remembering his battle against the US Government in 1971 and how he won against all odds.

Cassius Marsellus CLAY, Jr. within days of his victory against Sonny Liston in 1964 announced that he has converted into a black muslim and now will go by the name “Muhammad Ali”.

Ali always stood against the odds and was a born rebel. One such life incident which is well documented and is talked about only in quotes is his battle against the United States.

In 1971, Ali stood up against the United States for his refusal to induction into the armed forces.

For those who are more legally aligned. Do read the details of the case he fought and won against the United States of America Government:

Here are quick summary of his battle:

  1. Clearing the Draft: In 1965, Ali did not clear the army draft because he failed the mental aptitude test. But in 1966 due to the war escalations in Vietnam, the standards were lowered and he was then cleared for the draft.
  2. Conscientious Objection: He soon submitted a letter to the draft board through his lawyer requesting to defer as a conscientious objector. 
    On the basis of his petition, an FBI report and interviews with 35 of his friends and families, the registrar recommended that he was sincere in his objection on religious grounds to participation in war in any form, and hence the claim be sustained. Ali’s famous quote “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” resonated with millions of Americans who were against the war and the losses to lives
  3. Rejection: Within a few days, Department of Justice wrote a letter to the Appeal Board, advising it that the petitioner’s conscientious objector claim should be denied. Upon receipt of this letter of advice, the Board denied the his claim without a statement of reasons. In 1967 he was arrested & convicted of draft evasion. He was also stripped of his heavyweight title by New York and other powerful state athletic commissions.
  4. The Appeal: In 1971, Ali appealed to the US court. In order to appeal, he needed to go through 3 tests : a) he is conscientiously opposed to war in any form b) this opposition is based upon religious training and belief and c) he must show that this objection is sincere.
  5. Judgement Reversed: The June 1967 judgement of conviction of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years was reversed by the Court on because he was able to prove the 3 tests very successfully like the fighter he was.

About the Author

This article has been authored by Harshit Parekh , Co-Founder & Director at LegalNow.

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