Court Takes Swing At Golfers' Case

A replica 18th century wooden square rigger sails as 'The Zong,' past Tower Bridge on the Thames Thursday, March 29, 2007 in London. The voyage was part of recognition of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade act. The Zong was at the center of a court case in 1783 after 133 slaves were thrown overboard in an insurance scam. The resulting public outrage led to the rise of the Abolitionist movement.
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The Supreme Court debated the rules of golf and baseball Wednesday as several justices questioned whether a key disability-rights law gives disabled golfer Casey Martin the right to use a cart between shots at PGA Tour events.

CBS News Correspondent Teri Okita reports the PGA says Martin is getting an unfair advantage by riding. Martin disagrees.

The PGA Tour's lawyer asked the justices to rule that the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act does not require the tour to waive its requirement that players walk the course during tournaments. Pro sports have the right to set their own rules, lawyer H. Bartow Farr III said.

But Martin's lawyer, Roy L. Reardon, contended walking is not fundamental to the game of golf — making the shots is what counts.

"All that proves is that you could play golf under different rules," responded Justice Antonin Scalia. "Is it essential to the game of baseball that the pitcher bat? … Is it fundamental to baseball that the strike zone be from the shoulders to the knees?"

Cart, Anyone?
Click here to read' Legal Consultant Andrew Cohen's analysis of Martin v. PGA.
"All sports rules are silly rules, aren't they?" Scalia added.

Farr said a federal appeals court that ruled in Martin's favor "never really came to grips with what professional athletes are."

"The tour has always required that all competitors observe the same rules, including the walking rule," Farr said.

Golfers can sometimes walk 25 miles during a tournament, the PGA says, adding that fatigue may, and frequently does, affect golfers' concentration and overall performance.

The justices are expected by July to issue a ruling that could clarify how the disability-rights law affects pro sports.

At issue is the 1990 ADA's ban on discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations, including golf courses and entertainment sites. The law requires "reasonable modifications" for disabled people unless such changes would fundamentally alter the nature of the place or event.

The court Wednesday released three rulings in other cases:

  • Seling v. Young, the court ruled that harsh conditions or a lack of treatment behind bars do not justify releasing a sexual predator a state considers too dangerous to society, and underscored its position that states can lock up sex offenders after their sentences are over — as laws in 16 states now allow.
  • In City News & Novelty Inc. v. City of Waukesha, the court upheld a Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling in a dispute between a store selling sexually explicit material and the city of Waukesha, Wisc. over a permit to operate an adult business. The court held that the requirement of a prompt judicial review in permit disputes only mandated a quick review, not necessarily a review on the merits.
  • The court also dismissed a case it had accepted in September, involving complicated legal questions over the jurisdiction of circuit and district courts in a case involving a permit granted by the District of Colombia to a soil de-contamination facility, then withdrawn.
  • Martin, 28, has a circulatory disorder in his right leg called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome that makes it painful for him to walk long distances. He sued the PGA Tour in 1997, saying the ADA gave him a right to use a cart during tour events.

    The law's aim is to "give people like Casey Martin a chance to get to the game," Reardon said. Deferring to the PGA Tour's walking rule would give it "a free pass out of the Americans With Disabilities Act," he added.

    Justice Stephen G. Breyer asked Reardon who should decide whether a sports rule is fundamental to the game. If a rule is not fundamental, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked, "Who is the judge of whether a person is sufficiently disabled to get a dispensation from a non-fundamental requirement?"

    The hour-long argument had its moments of levity. Scalia said that if some justices seemed to know as little about baseball as they did about golf, "the former would be a much greater sin."

    "Wait a minute," interjected Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a longtime golfer who shot a hole-in-one last month.

    "In dissent again," added Justice John Paul Stevens as the courtroom audience began to laugh.

    Farr argued that PGA Tour events should not be considered public accommodations for te players. Instead, they should be considered independently contracted employees, he said.

    Several justices questioned that assertion. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the golf tour appeared to be a public accommodation because "it's open to golfers from all over the world."

    Clinton administration lawyer Barbara Underwood argued in Martin's support, saying the disabilities law was intended to sweep broadly. It would protect gamblers at casinos and exhibitors at craft fairs even if they earned their living through those activities, she said.

    A federal judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Martin, saying that using a cart would not give him an unfair advantage over his competitors.

    But Indiana golfer Ford Olinger lost a similar case before a Chicago-based federal appeals court. He sued the U.S. Golf Association for the right to use a cart during U.S. Open qualifying, but the appeals court decided that would change the nature of competition.

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