Herbert draft, and makes the person ineligible

Herbert Hoover once said “Older men declare war. But it is youth that fight and die.” However, what happens when somebody stands up to this horrible truth and fights for an end to an inevitable defeat? 9 men and women at the highest level of the Justice System decide the most important cases that will change American life. The Supreme Court sets the standard for future cases, lower courts, and fellow justices while determining the most influential cases in the country.

In 1971, Clay v. United States was sent to the Supreme Court when Cassius Clay was convicted of failing to submit to induction after he switched to the Muslim religion and was denied conscientious objector status. Conscientious objector status grants exemption from selective service, or the draft, and makes the person ineligible to be sent to war. Clay, renamed Muhammed Ali after he converted, felt that he had been denied conscientious objector status because of his religion, but the real question being asked was whether Clay was fairly convicted of failing to submit to induction and whether the board that reviewed Clay’s application had a sufficient reason for denying Clay conscientious objector status. The end result of Clay v.

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United States altered Americans rights exponentially, changing the entire selective service system and allowing the people to choose whether they wanted to go into the military or not. In addition, specific prejudices against different races were lessened which made healing the racial scars that were created during the previous draft even easier. The 1960’s were a very complicated and important time in American history.

America had been involved in the Vietnam war for 5 years and they were sending at least 30,000 men a month to Vietnam, this sparked outrage across the country and many people believed that America was wasting its valuable materials on the war (DiCanio). Meanwhile, on February 25, 1964, Cassius Clay won his first heavyweight title and 2 days later declared that he had converted to the Muslim religion and had been renamed Muhammed Ali by Islam’s leader at the time, Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad Ali believed that the Selective Service system was unfair to many people of different races as it let students that went to college, usually white males, skip the draft and stay in school. Even more so than the draft though Ali despised the way America was dealing with the Vietnam War and said:”I got nothing against no Viet Cong. No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger.” and “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights .

. . if I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow (Linton).” Ali decided to apply for conscientious objector status which made him exempt from the draft and therefore going to Vietnam, in order to be a conscientious objector the applicant had to pass three tests: the applicant had to be sincere in his objection, the applicant had to be opposed to war in any form, and the applicant’s objection had to be religiously motivated.

Then the application would be sent to the local appeal board which would review it and send it to the Department of Justice for an advisory letter. Ali sent his application in and explained in it that “he was a pacifist who was religiously opposed to fighting in war (Lederman).” The application was then sent to the Department of Justice for review where Lawrence Grauman reviewed Ali’s application and after careful consideration advised the board to allow Ali conscientious objector status. The Department of Justice then ignored Grauman’s letter and sent their own to the board which advised against giving Ali conscientious objector status but they did not give any reason for denying him. Ali was denied the status and reported to an induction center in Houston but refused to submit to induction, he was then arrested, prosecuted, and stripped of his boxing license and title. Ali was then sentenced to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, he then appealed to the U.S.

Court of Appeals and his conviction was affirmed. Ali then requested certiorari from the Supreme Court and was granted it which led the case to the highest court possible, the question being whether the government’s conviction would be valid if no evidence was given for the decision made. On April 19, 1971 the oral arguments took place and Chauncey Eskridge, Ali’s Lawyer, began explaining why Ali’s conviction was not valid. Eskridge first explained that Ali wrote in his application for conscientious objector status “Muslim means peace, total submission to the will of Allah, do not take the lives of anyone, nor war when not ordered by Allah (Oyez, Oral Arguments).” Eskridge believed that this quote showed that Ali was not selective with his claim because it states that Muslims will not fight in any war unless told by Allah and if Ali did fight in a war after being told by Allah it would be considered a holy war which Eskridge then related to the case Sicurella v. United States.

In that case, the plaintiff was a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was denied conscientious objector status just like Ali, he also said that he would only partake in a war if it was for religious purposes and that it would not involve weapons or the killing of people. When Congress stated that a conscientious objector would have to be opposed to “war in any form” it had in mind fighting physically with weapons but because the war would be holy it would be without weapons or hurting other people and that was why Sicurella’s conviction was reversed. The real reason Eskridge brought up the Sicurella case was to show that in the case the lower court was given two erroneous opinions which reverses the man’s conviction immediately because it was an error in law. That meant that Ali’s conviction should be reversed as well because the “holy war” that he would participate in was not a form of war congress agreed upon, this made the process of denying Ali his Conscientious Objector status an error in law just like the Sicurella case.

Erwin Griswold, Solicitor General, was the defendant and he first explained that even though the Appeal Board usually uses the advisory letter that the Department of Justice sends, they are not forced to agree with the Department of Justice and they can make their own decision based on their interpretation of the application (Oyez, Oral Arguments). Griswold believes that the board did not get an erroneous opinion because of this and that the Department of Justice was just not needed for the final decision. Griswold’s largest argument was whether there was any “basis in fact” in the lower courts and Department of Justice’s decision to deny Ali conscientious objector status. Griswold explained that the only way, other than an error in law, for the conviction to be reversed, would be if there was no basis in fact in the court’s and Department of Justice’s decision. Griswold believed that sincerity was the reason for Ali’s denial because it was the only one of the three tests that were eligible to be argued under certiorari.

Griswold clarified that because the reason for Ali’s denial was sincerity and because Ali did say that he would fight in a holy war, it meant that Ali was selective which would provide a basis in fact for the board’s decision. After the Oral Arguments, on June 28, 1971, the court ruled in per curiam (8-0, Justice Thurgood Marshall did not participate) to reverse Ali’s conviction. In the court’s majority opinion Justice Douglas and Justice Harlan both wrote opinions but concurred. Justice Douglas wrote in his opinion:”Since it was impossible to determine on exactly which grounds the Appeal Board had based its decision, we reversed the decision sustaining the judgment of conviction. We said: ‘It is difficult for us to believe that the Congress had in mind this type of activity when it said the thrust of conscientious objection must go to ‘participation in war in any form’ (FindLaw).Justice Douglas’s take on the case was that because the court did not know which ground the board relied upon when making its decision and because there was no way of knowing whether the holy war was a “form of war” or not. Justice Harlan wrote in his opinion that he felt that they should reverse the conviction because even though the Appeal Board did not read the letter that the Department of Justice ended up sending, if they did the board could have been influenced by the letter and therefore it was an error in law which reversed the conviction. Just 3 months after the Clay v.

United States decision was made the draft was reformed, giving and taking rights away from the people but most importantly creating a more just system that gave a common ground for people of all color, shape, and appearance. No laws were changed after the decision was made but Ali’s protest against selective service and the racism that was associated with it inspired many people to fight for their own rights including Martin Luther King Jr. and everybody who fought in the anti-war movement.

In fact Martin Luther King Jr. wrote during Ali’s time of conflict “He is giving up millions of dollars to do what his conscious tells him is right.” After the court decision was made and the draft was reformed it was evident that Ali had made an impact on the U.S. government and had put pressure on them to change the system that had been so long neglected.

The first new rule that was implemented into the selective service system was one that many black men and women had been opposed to all along. The Selective Service System writes, “Before Congress reformed the draft in 1971, a man could qualify for a student deferment if he could show he was a full-time student . . . Under the current draft law, a college student can have his induction postponed only until the end of the current semester (How the Draft has Changed).” This loosened some of the racial tensions that had been present under the previous draft because the majority of the college students that were attending universities were privileged white males. Black men and women could now feel at least slightly equal to their caucasian counterparts even though women were still not eligible for the draft and black men usually couldn’t afford to attend college.

The decision the court made was controversial nationwide as many people regarded Ali as a draft dodger that refused to fight for his country. A writer for Sports Illustrated demonstrated what most of the white male population thought of Ali in this passage, “Without his gloves on, Ali is just another demagogue and an apologist for his so-called religion, and his views on Vietnam don’t deserve rebuttal (Lederman)…” Even after Ali had gave everything that he could have possibly given to his cause, people still viewed him as an unloyal American and it leaves people to think today how the citizens that fought against Ali were so blinded by their own ignorance. Without the judicial system America has in place today the country that is founded on freedom and equality would have neither of those traits.

The way that America revisits and reviews rights and laws makes for a truly unique and excellent system that allows for citizens of the country to be under the most fair and correct arrangement possible at all times. The case Clay v. United States impacted men and women around the country as it addressed the selective service system which had been a conflicted topic for many years before the case. Furthermore, the case brought attention to the racial, political, and religious conflict that had been associated with selective service and put a new perspective on what Americans thought was important when it came to their individual rights. ¬†Even though the Ali fought for his rights and eventually succeeded in getting his point across, it is important to note what could have happened if Ali’s conviction was affirmed and he was sent to prison.

Many people who believed in Ali’s cause could have abandoned fighting after Ali was turned down and even if the few people that kept fighting continued to battle they would not have had nearly as much support as a professional athlete. Furthermore, the draft could have been kept the same and the country we live in today could still be controlled by a system that takes away a piece of an Americans freedom. In this case the Supreme Court made the correct decision by using it’s knowledge of the constitution to further enhance American life, but the real significance of this case was not that Ali won, but that his greatest fight came out of the ring, fighting for what he believed in.


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