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SBD/Issue 82/Law & Politics
Supreme Moment: PGA Tour v. Martin Argued For Highest Court
Published January 18, 2001
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of PGA Tour v. Martin yesterday, the case to decide if the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the Tour to allow Martin use of a motorized cart in competition. USA TODAY's Joan Biskupic writes that the case does not "test protections" for employees or customers of a business, but "involves a potentially gray area of performers and participants." Tour attorney H. Bartow Farr argued a cart would give Martin "an unfair advantage and compromise high-level competitions." Martin's attorney, Roy Reardon, told the justices "walking is not fundamental to the game." Justice David Souter, asked why the Tour and its sponsors should not be able to make the events as difficult as possible, "Why shouldn't we respect that?" Reardon answered, "You would be giving the PGA and professional sports a free pass" from the ADA. Discussing the Tour's mandatory walking rule, Justice Antonin Scalia "suggested that what might matter most is that it's an established rule" and asked, "All sports rules are silly rules, aren't they?" Biskupic reports that it was a "spirited hour" of arguments, and that a decision is "likely by July" (USA TODAY, 1/18). Justice Stephen Breyer asked Reardon, "Who should decide whether a sports rule is fundamental to the game?" The AP's Laurie Asseo also reports that Farr argued that Tour events "should not be considered public accommodations for the players" but should be "considered independently contracted employees." But "several justices questioned that assertion" and Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Tour appeared to be a public accommodation because "it's open to golfers from all over the world" (AP, 1/18). Farr said that golf is "a competition that tests excellence in performing what the rules require." Farr added that allowing Martin to ride a cart would "fundamentally alter the nature of the competition." Reardon countered by noting that the Tour has permitted golfers to use carts between shots "during qualifying rounds." Reardon: "Walking is not the game" (W.S. JOURNAL, 1/18). Justice John Paul Stevens: "What puzzles me is how it can be a fundamental rule and not apply in the qualifying events. ... If logistics are sufficient to justify the use of a cart, why isn't this handicap sufficient?" In Philadelphia, Rich Hofmann writes that Justice Breyer used former MLB P Jim Abbott, who only has one hand, as an analogy (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 1/18).
PLAYING FAVORITES? Biskupic notes that "overall, the justices appeared more receptive to the PGA Tour" (USA TODAY, 1/18). In N.Y., Linda Greenhouse notes that Reardon "got the toughest questions on the issue of whether courts should second-guess a sport's view of its basic requirements" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/18). In Baltimore, Lyle Denniston writes that the Tour "appeared to make headway with the court" on the issue that leagues should not have to "change the way their games are played" (Baltimore SUN, 1/18). In Houston, John Henry writes that the justices were "voicing skepticism about forcing the tour to alter its rules" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/18).
THEIR OWN OPINIONS: In DC, Charles Lane writes that the case "poses a conflict between two age-old American values. On the one hand, everyone deserves a chance to play. On the other, the rules are the rules" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/18). In Detroit, Mitch Albom calls the Tour's opposition of Martin "shameful." Albom: "If they had a lick of sense, they could have recognized that Martin is not a repeating act, that he is truly one in a million, a guy with that much of a handicap who can be good enough to even try for a tour card" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/18). In Miami, Greg Cote writes that "The PGA Tour loses. Even if it wins, it loses. The Tour's beyond-stubborn battle to deny Casey Martin use of a cart ... offends the sensibilities while it tramples common sense" (MIAMI HERALD, 1/18).
CASEY'S TV MONITOR: Last night's 6:30pm ET edition of NBC's "Nightly News" and the 6:30pm ET edition of ABC's "World News Tonight" did not report on the hearing. Last night's 7:00pm ET edition of the "CBS Evening News" reported on the case at 20:07 into the broadcast. CBS' Diana Olick said, "What is at stake are the rules of the game. Must they be tailored to the abilities of each player or are they sacred?" (THE DAILY).