« Amazing new empirical research in federal sentencing outcomes detailing disparities based on political background | Main | Explaining the sudden resignation last week of federal Bureau of Prisons chief »

May 24, 2018

Prez Trump posthumously pardons boxer Jack Johnson

As reported in this new CNN piece, "President Donald Trump on Thursday granted a posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson on the advice of actor Sylvester Stallone."  Here is more:

"Today I've issued an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, posthumously, to John Arthur 'Jack' Johnson ... The first African-American heavyweight champion of the world, a truly great fighter. Had a tough life," Trump said.  Trump was joined in the Oval Office by Stallone, current heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, and Johnson's great-great niece Linda Bell Haywood, among others.

"We have done something today that was very important, because we righted a wrong," Trump said. "Jack Johnson was not treated fairly, and we have corrected that, and I'm very honored to have done it." Last month, Trump said he was considering the pardon....

Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, was convicted in 1913 under the Mann Act for taking his white girlfriend across state lines for "immoral" purposes.  The Mann Act purported to prevent human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, but critics have argued it was applied inconsistently to criminalize African Americans and those with dissenting political views. 

Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury in less than two hours and was imprisoned for a year.  The sentence and imprisonment destroyed the boxing career of the "Galveston Giant."  He died in 1946.

Stallone called Johnson an "inspirational character." "It's incredible that you've done this," the "Rocky" star told the President....

In 2016, then-Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, along with Reps. Peter King, R-New York, and Gregory Meeks, D-New York, petitioned the Obama administration to grant a pardon to Johnson. The bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the White House asking that the pardon be given in honor of the 70th anniversary of the boxer's death. "While it is unfortunate that this unjust conviction was not corrected during the boxer's lifetime, a posthumous pardon today represents the opportunity to reaffirm Jack Johnson's substantial contributions to our society and right this historical wrong," the letter said.

In March 2017, Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, joined with McCain, King and Meeks to reintroduce a resolution urging Johnson's pardon. "Despite this resolution passing both chambers of Congress several times in recent years, no pardon has been issued to date," McCain said in a statement at the time. "I hope President Trump will seize the opportunity before him to right this historical wrong and restore a great athlete's legacy."

In an era in which there are so many living people subject to excessive sentences and unfair convictions and collateral consequences, I am generally not a huge fan of posthumous pardons. But these kinds of actions reveal that a chief executive knows and is willing to acknowledge mistakes and injustices in the operation of the justice system, and (one hopes) they can serve as a precursor to more meaningful use of the clemency power on behalf of people still alive to benefit from it.

This USA Today article from last month provides an interesting review of two previous exampled of posthumous Prez pardons: "Bill Clinton and the Buffalo soldier" and "George W. Bush and the godfather of the Israeli air force"

May 24, 2018 at 02:30 PM | Permalink


Adds to his symbolic pardons though this one is less offensive than the others.

[The offense was on a range but each one had issues.]

Posted by: Joe | May 24, 2018 4:12:55 PM

I wonder if he would have pardoned him if he were still alive.

Posted by: Erik M | May 24, 2018 5:49:12 PM

Is JJ the best Miles?


Posted by: RW | May 24, 2018 6:38:42 PM

Prof. Berman deleted my comment about feminist lawyers, because he is a denier.

He says, "In an era in which there are so many living people subject to excessive sentences and unfair convictions and collateral consequences, I am generally not a huge fan of posthumous pardons." I suggested pardons for Bill Cosby and Morgan Freeman, two black victims of the lynch mob mentality of the present legal system.

Posted by: David Behar | May 25, 2018 4:45:51 AM

David, I have told you I would delete comments of your that are filled more repetitive rants than rational contributions to a discussion about the main post or comments thereon. Your prior comment fit that mold (in part because the Prez cannot pardon a state offense).

Posted by: Doug B | May 25, 2018 10:08:28 AM

This pardon is sound and fury signifying nothing. His actions (and lack of action) on day to day criminal justice issues, placing Sessions as AG, doing nothing with pending clemency petitions from live prisoners and promotion of the worst excesses and sbuses by ICE demonstrate his real attitudes towards criminal justice issues and people of color.

Posted by: defendergirl | May 25, 2018 12:45:04 PM

What is the mentality involved in these sort of cases?

I'm interested in the general reason why past presidents chose not to pardon him and others in his general boat. Has there been a statement made on the policy involved?

Posted by: Joe | May 25, 2018 2:42:36 PM

I see the USA Today article covers the point.

Posted by: Joe | May 25, 2018 2:58:52 PM

Many years ago, I was a huge boxing fan and learned the story of Jack Johnson.

I understand the reasons for some being against the pardon, but feel those reasons were unfounded, because the pardon is based upon the Mann Act, specifically, and how it was unfairly used against Johnson.

I am a big fan of Johnson's and am very happy for Galveston Texas, whose hometown hero has been raised up a little bit higher.

Thanks to all those who made this happen. It has been many for a long time.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | May 25, 2018 3:23:05 PM


I have, never, seen a moderator more fair than Doug.

This blogs standards are a peg up from many others, thank God.

If you stay somewhat rational and civil, your comments will not be removed.

We are all allowed to post here, only at the discresion of Doug. We are his guests. Act like it.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | May 25, 2018 3:27:44 PM

Thanks, Dudley. I very much appreciate the comments and it means a lot to me!

Posted by: Doug B | May 25, 2018 3:30:37 PM

Hi, Dudley. I disagree. This is the sidewalk of his property. He may not discriminate against the protected classes on his property, his sidewalk. It is his sidewalk because he gets sued for falls, and fined for not removing the snow. His property deed puts his property line in the middle of the street, perhaps.

Nor may he discriminate by viewpoint. In the proper place and time, I could blare loudspeakers outside his home, on his property. I could make the most vile and false statements. He is a public figure, and there is nothing he can do about it. He could call the police, and they would determine if I were violating noise ordinances after hours.

I would not make Doug a test case, but I would make Facebook one. That Harvard indoctrinated America hater, Mark Zuckerberg, has made expressions of any patriotic idea impossible. Then, Harvard indoctrinated Zuckerberg privileges and protects terror organization seeking our destruction.

Posted by: David Behar | May 25, 2018 9:01:25 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB