Clay v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Interstate Commerce Commission

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 403 US 698 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 19, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 28, 1971

Facts of the case

Board No. 47, Louisville, Kentucky, denied the application of Cassius Clay, also known as Muhammad Ali, for classification as a conscientious objector. Clay then took an administrative appeal to the Kentucky Appeal Board, which tentatively classified him I-A, or eligible for unrestricted military service, and referred his file to the Justice Department for an advisory recommendation. The Justice Department concluded, contrary to a hearing officer's recommendation, that Clay's claim should be denied. The Department wrote that Clay did not meet any of the three basic tests for conscientious objector status; that he is conscientiously opposed to war in any form, that this opposition is based upon religious training and belief, and that this objection is sincere. Subsequently, the Appeal Board denied Clay's claim, but without stating its reasons. When Clay refused to report for induction, he was tried and convicted of willful refusal to submit to induction. The Court of Appeals affirmed.


Was Cassius Clay's induction notice invalid because it was grounded upon an erroneous denial of his claim to be classified as a conscientious objector?

Media for Clay v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 19, 1971 in Clay v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

-- this morning in Number 783, Clay against the United States.

Mr. Eskridge you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Chauncey Eskridge:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is an important case because it poises the -- a famous athlete, the heavyweight or ex-heavyweight champion of the world against the United States Selective Service System, which treated him we say, unfairly.

May it be recalled that in February 1964, the so called Louisville Lip, so called because of his loquaciousness to say the least, he just won the championship of mid great public acclaim.

He had just announced that time that he was a so called Black Muslim.

At that time, they were considered to be terrorists or subversives because the justice department then was wiretapping his leader, the honorable Elijah Mohammed.

Well, soon after he won the championship in March of 1964, it was announced by the officials by the Selective Service System that he had been given two qualifications test, and he had failed both and had been given the classification of 1-Y.

Almost two years went by and after many reams of newspaper copy, he was then sent on February 3, 1966 a statement of his acceptability, this because the Selective Service System had lowered his qualifications for admissions into the Armed Forces.

What is the classification 1-Y of the (Inaudible)

Chauncey Eskridge:

1-Y means that he is not then, or that he'd only been taken in case of war or national emergency.

On February 14, 1966, he wrote a letter to his local draft board, alleging facts which he claims entitled him under the law to several lower classifications, including that of the conscientious objector.

Without more, on the February 17, 1966, his local board reclassified him.

Then the next day, the local board sent him the usual form 150, which is the application for a conscientious objector.

Then on the February 28, he sent the application back, which showing on the face of this application what we consider to be a prima facie entitlement to the status of conscientious objector.

In his handwriting, he wrote, “Muslim means peace, total submission to the will of Allah, do not take the lives of anyone, nor war when ordered -- when not ordered by Allah” and in parenthesis he has the word (God, keep our prayers and pay poor rates), that's quotation from his form 150.

And the form 50 maybe found in page 17a of the appendix -- I'm sorry, on page 12 a of the appendix.

He then appeared before his draft board on March 17, 1966 and the notes of the clerk or the minutes of that meeting appear on page 17a of the appendix and they will get them important, because the notes of the minutes of that meeting are later quoted by the Government as being pertinent in this case.

Then the appeal process starts.

As you remember in those days, you made an -- you make an application to the Appeal Board, and the Appeal Board refers the matter to the United States Justice department, and the United States Justice department at that time appointed under the statute, a hearing officer who was to have a hearing on good faith and character of the registrant.

In this case, it is important that the hearing officer was an ex-chief, an ex-judge, a retired judge from the system of Kentucky, a man in his 60's and who had been on the bench many number of years.

And that this judge had this hearing, his name was Judge Grauman.

Now, Judge Grauman heard several witnesses.

He also had in front of him, the record shows that an FBI report of about six inches.

He also was given at the hearing two books, one of which was called the “Message to the Black Man” written by the honorable Elijah Mohammed, and another book entitled “The Holy Qur'an” by Muhammad Ali, not our Muhammad Ali, another one.

And there was also introduced a copy of a newspaper that put out by his sect, the Muslims called it the “Muhammad Speaks.”

Now, Judge Grauman, he had the first opportunity to determine the credibility of the witnesses and he could determine whether how much credence to put in the testimony of the people in front of him and Judge Grauman wrote his report, and his report appears on page 17a.

In some of his notations in what we call the advice letter which is written by the Attorney General -- written by the Selective Service System, I mean, the justice department and this is where we consider the crux of this case is in the so called advice letter.

Now, the hearing officer wrote his report and he concluded at page 117a in the appendix that the registrant is sincere in his objections on religious ground, to participation in war in any form and he recommended that the conscientious objector claim of the registrant be sustained, notwithstanding.

The justice -- at that time, the Justice department had a conscientious objector section and all letters are written by a man by the name of T. Oscar Smith who was in charge of the section and this letter was written back signed by T. Oscar Smith.