In a 7-2 ruling with implications for other pro sports, the justices ruled that a federal disability-bias law requires the pro golf tour to waive its requirement that players walk the course during tournaments. That rule is not fundamental to the game of golf, the court said.
In the majority opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said Congress intended for an organization like the PGA Tour to give consideration to disabled golfers. Martin has a circulatory disorder in his right leg that makes it difficult for him to walk the course.
Lawmakers intended that such organizations "carefully weigh the purpose, as well as the letter" of its rules before rejecting requests of disabled golfers out of hand.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the dissent, joined by fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas.
"In my view today's opinion exercises a benevolent compassion that the law does not place it within our power to impose," he said.
That law applies to professional sports events when they are held at places of public accommodation, the justices said.
The decision upholds a lower court ruling that ordered the PGA Tour to let Martin use a cart. The lower court said using a cart would not give him an unfair advantage over his competitors.
Tour officials declined immediate comment but said a statement would be released later.
Martin's circulatory condition is called Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome. He sued the PGA Tour in 1997, saying the ADA enacted in 1990 gave him a right to use a cart during tour events.
Martin was a teammate of Tiger Woods at Stanford, and the two used to room together on road trips. Woods has said that Martin sometimes would be in so much pain that he couldn't get up to use the bathroom.
Although he has played some events on the PGA Tour, Martin has spent most of this season on the Buy.com Tour, a minor league linked to the main tour. His best finish this year was a tie for 34th at the Louisiana Open April 1.
"In my opinion the law shouldn't be taking into account disabilities in a professional sports arena," Golf Digest senior writer Jaime Diaz told CBS Radio News. "Players are injured in all sorts of sports and sometimes it marks the end of their careers. It's sad but very much a reality in professional sports.
"I think he did the right thing for himself," Diaz added. "I just disagree with the principle of the ruling."
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have spoken against allowing any player to use a cart in elite competition to accommodate a disability. They have said that using a cart would give Martin an advantage and take away a basic part of the game: the ability to walk an 18-hole course.
Nicklaus, playing host to his annual Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio, declined immediate comment on the Supreme Court ruling.
Jim Furyk, a tour golfer preparing for the Memorial, said he was happy for Martin.
"I understand where the Tour's coming from and my heart goes out to Casey," Furyk said. "He's a wonderful person, he's a great guy and a great competitor. I'm happy he gets to go ahead and fulfill his dream. I understood both sides of the story. ...
"If I was Casey I would have done the exact same thing. I'm happy for him as a person."
Annika Sorenstam, the top money winner on the LPGA Tour, also said she was happy for Martin.
"He wants to play golf, he wants to compete and this gives him a chance to do it," she said during practice for the U.S. Women's Open at Southern Pines, N.C.
But not all golfers were glad to hear the news.
"Anytime you get to ride you gain an advantage, don't you?" said Frank Nobilo, a PGA Tour regular from New Zealand "I think you do. It's the same reason they try to ban drugs in sports because it gives an advantage."
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Martin in March 2000. But the next day a Chicago-based federal appeals court ruled against Indiana golfer Ford Olinger, who sued the U.S. Golf Association for the right to use a cart in U.S. Open qualifying. The appeals court said a cart would change the nature of competition.
Among those supporting the PGA Tour in friend-of-the-court briefs were the Ladies Professional Golf Association and the men's pro tennis organization, the ATP Tour.
The Justice Department backed Martin, as did disability-rights groups including the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
The case is PGA Tour v. Martin, 00-24.
©MMI Viacom Internet Services Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report