(WASHINGTON) — Maybe the ninth time’s a charm.
A number of legislators, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., reintroduced legislation this week to posthumously pardon boxing legend Jack Johnson, who was convicted 100 years ago of transporting a woman across state lines for an “immoral purpose” in a trial they said was tainted by race.
“Since 2004, Congressman King and I have fought for a posthumous pardon of Jack Johnson, the world’s first African-American heavyweight champion, for his racially motivated conviction,” said McCain in a statement. “In past years, both chambers of Congress unanimously passed this resolution, but unfortunately, it still awaits executive action and no pardon has been issued.”
Johnson was sentenced to prison in 1913 under the Mann Act for taking a white woman across state lines. The Mann Act prohibited taking women across state lines for “immoral purposes,” and has since been amended to apply only to prostitution or illegal sexual acts.
The lawmakers wanted to pass this legislation in both the House and Senate early this year in hopes that the president would grant the pardon, said McCain’s communications director Brian Rogers. The legislation previously passed through both houses in 2009.
McCain sent Obama a letter to persuade him to grant the pardon in 2009, following an exchange with the Department of Justice in which the department said it was not its “general policy” to process applications for the posthumous pardon of a federal offense.
“The [Obama] administration has said they don’t do posthumous pardons, though there is precedent for posthumous pardons from the Clinton administration,” Rogers told ABC News.
Former President Clinton was the first to grant a posthumous pardon in February 1999 of Henry O’ Flipper, the first African-American graduate of West Point Academy. Former President George W. Bush also granted one posthumous pardon over the course of his two terms.
In Article 2, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, it states that “The President … shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” There is no indication of whether it matters if the person to be pardoned is living or dead. Obama did pardon 17 living prisoners last Friday.
“We can never completely right the wrong perpetrated against Jack Johnson during his lifetime,” McCain said in the statement. “But this pardon is a small, meaningful step toward acknowledging his mistreatment before the law and celebrating his legacy of athletic greatness and historical significance.”
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