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Case Basics
Docket No. 
United States
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Argued the cause for the United States)
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?

Decision: 8 votes for Clay, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Selective Service, Military Selective Service, or Universal Military Service and Training Acts

Yes. In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that since the Appeal Board gave no reason for the denial of a conscientious objector exemption to Clay, and that it was impossible to determine on which of the three grounds offered in the Justice Department's letter that board relied, Clay's conviction must be reversed. The Court reasoned that Clay satisfied the first two tests of conscientious objection. Regarding the third test, the Court concluded that whether or not Clay met the test of conscientious objection to war in any form, it was not clear that the Appeal Board relied on some legitimate ground in denying the claim, and therefore the conviction could not stand. In separate opinions, Justices William O. Douglas and John M. Harlan concurred. Justice Thurgood Marshall did not participate.

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CLAY v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
CLAY v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"CLAY v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,