On former President Gerald R. Ford's last day in office, Peter H. Irons, a second-year law student, received Ford's pardon for having refused to register for the draft in 1961.
Irons served a 26-month jail sentence beginning in 1963 for the felony.
In 1961, Irons wrote his draft board that he was returning his card because he felt U.S. laws supported racial discrimination and he wanted to remove himself from the government's jurisdiction.
Irons said yesterday he applied for the pardon in September 1974, when Ford announced a clemency program for Vietnam draft resisters who performed alternate service.
But because he had sent his draft card in before August 1964--the date of the Tonkin Bay resolution considered the official beginning of the Vietnam War--Irons was not included in the clemency program, and for the next two years his case was tied up in Justice Department bureaucracy.
"I didn't expect to get a pardon from Ford," Irons said. "I was doing it partly to harrass them, and partly to make a political point."
Comment from the Justice Department staff and Ford's transition team was unavailable yesterday, but a White House spokesman said Ford pardoned "a very small number of draft resisters," and that most of them performed some kind of alternate service in return for the pardon.
The pardon--which Irons said looks like "an elementary school perfect attendance record"--does not affect Irons's status with the Massachusetts bar, but he said it could help if he wishes to practice in other states that do not allow convicted felons to practice law.
The White House spokesman said Irons could not receive a presidential pardon under President Carter's program for draft resisters, because that program, like Ford's applies only to people who resisted the draft after 1964.
Carter's program has been criticized because it fails to recognize that there was a war in Vietnam "before we recognized that it was a war," the spokesman said.
Estimates on the number of draft resisters included in Carter's program range from 10,000 to 20,000, the spokesman said. The program does not include the more than 100,000 Vietnam war veterans who received less than honorable discharges.