Supreme Court Rules that Disabled Golfer Can Use Cart
The Supreme Court yesterday ruled 7-2 that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires the Professional Golf Association Tour to allow disabled golfer Casey Martin to use a golf cart to move between holes, finding that the cart is a "reasonable modification" and would not "fundamentally alter" the sport, USA Today reports. Martin, who originally sued the PGA Tour in 1997 after it refused to grant him an exception to a rule banning the use of golf carts, suffers from Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber syndrome, a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes walking difficult (Biskupic/Blauvelt, USA Today, 5/30). Upholding a decision last year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court found that players in tournaments are covered under the ADA provision banning discrimination against the disabled in "places of public accommodation," rejecting the PGA Tour's contention that such protections should only apply to spectators, and not competitors (Savage, Los Angeles Times, 5/30). Therefore, the tour's "refusal to consider Martin's personal circumstances in deciding whether to accomodate his disability runs counter to the clear language and purpose" of the ADA, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority (Lane, Washington Post, 5/30). He said that "shot making" is the "essence" of golf, adding that the rule requiring competitors to walk is "at best peripheral to the game" and "it might be waived in individual cases without working a fundamental alteration" (Greenhouse, New York Times, 5/30). Martin said he was "grateful" for the decision, adding, "An institution like the PGA Tour -- before they just automatically knock down someone's desire for accommodation, they might have to think twice" (Healy, Baltimore Sun, 5/30).
While the decision was a victory for Martin, the court "avoid[ed] a blanket ruling" and "stressed the need to evaluate each case on an individual basis" (New York Times, 5/30). PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said, "It is reasonable to assume that the court's decision relates to Casey Martin and Casey Martin only" (Baltimore Sun, 5/30). But Justice Antonin Scalia, in a "blistering, and, at times, sarcastic dissent," joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, warned that the court's decision could spur lawsuits at all levels of sport. "One can envision the parents of a Little League player with attention deficit disorder trying to convince a judge that their son's disability makes it at least 25 percent more difficult to hit a pitched ball. If they are successful, the only thing that could prevent a court order giving the kid four strikes would be a judicial determination that, in baseball, three strikes are metaphysically necessary, which is quite absurd," he wrote (Richey, Christian Science Monitor, 5/30). In addition to the ruling's potential effect on sports, disability rights advocates and lawyers said it had broader implications for the ADA in "conventional workplaces" (Washington Post, 5/30). Chai Feldblum, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center who helped draft the ADA, said, "It is an incredibly important victory for people with disabilities because it underscores the importance of having individualized assessments. The point of the ADA was to have businesses stop, think and justify the rules that exclude others" (USA Today, 5/30). The court's full opinion is available at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/29may20011200/www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/00pdf/00-24.pdf. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the opinion.
Here's a quick look at some of the early reaction to the decision:
- A Los Angeles Times editorial writes that "despite wild talk among some sports nuts," the decision "is a limited one and a good one -- not the end of sporting competition as we know it" (Los Angeles Times, 5/30).
- Saying that this case was "about doing the right thing," USA Today sports columnist Jon Saraceno writes that the decision was "correct because it reinforces the rights of those whose voices would be muted by an elite majority" (Saraceno, USA Today, 5/30).
- Calling the court's "intervention in this matter ... absurdly overreaching and arrogant," an Investor's Business Daily editorial states, "Believe it or not, the high court has discovered a long-neglected inalienable right in the Constitution -- the right of disabled golfers to use motorized carts in professional golf tournaments" (Investor's Business Daily, 5/30).
- Writing in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, David Bernstein, an associate professor at George Mason University School of Law, criticizes the majority for an "unseemly lack of modesty" in its decision and urges Congress -- which he says helped to create confusion surrounding the ADA by making it "incredibly broad and vague" -- to "exempt" activities such as sports and arts from the law's reach (Bernstein, Wall Street Journal, 5/30).
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