Muhammad Ali's Greatest Fight
Famous for both his signature shuffle and verbal sparring, boxer Cassius Clay rose to fame in the 1960s, becoming the world’s best-known athlete – and eventually its most controversial. After joining the Nation of Islam and adopting the name Muhammad Ali, he was widely denounced for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military, based on his religious opposition to the Vietnam War.
Stripped of his title and banned from the sport, the self-proclaimed “Greatest” lost nearly four years of his boxing prime to legal battles. In 1971, Ali’s case for being a conscientious objector eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, rooted by tradition and conservative ideals with Nixon-appointed Chief Justice Warren E. Burger at its helm. This film goes behind the closed doors of the Court, as the nine Justices decide the outcome of Muhammad Ali’s landmark appeal.
After Thurgood Marshall recuses himself from the deliberation (ironically, he was the only African-American on the Court, though he disapproved of the Nation of Islam’s agenda), the other eight justices weigh whether Ali’s appeal deserves even to be brought before the Supreme Court. After agreeing it does, they proceed to weigh the pros and cons of the case in a series of heated meetings, sometimes carrying their arguments outside the office.
In the meantime, Kevin Connelly, a new clerk in the office of Justice John Harlan II, takes it upon himself to buck the conservative trend among his starched-shirt colleagues, pitching an argument to the ailing Harlan that’s designed to change his mind about Ali’s guilt – and turn the tide in what at first seemed to be a losing battle for the former, and future, heavyweight champion of the world.