In this case, the PGA set the rule against carts because it believes that walking the course as a show of stamina is necessary under championship conditions. By casually deciding that the PGA is wrong about its own game, the court opens up great room for other courts to tinker with other sports to advance their own notions of social justice. We will now have a great rush of litigation followed by more sports rules being bent or repealed by non-players who have the advantage of being judges.
This dubious process of dismantling the rules so that everyone can play is already under way. Shelby Wilson, a 6-year-old Oklahoma child with cerebral palsy, was allowed to use a walker while playing in a girls' softball league. An 11-year-old boy in Hemet, Calif., Geoffrey Shultz, was allowed to play Pony League baseball on crutches to accommodate his cerebral palsy. In Oklahoma, 9-year-old Ryan Taylor was allowed to play in a soccer league while using a walker. He was essentially stationary, placed near the goal.
The sense of inclusion is inspiring, but 9-year-olds are fairly large and quick, and collision can do some damage, particularly if one collidee is on crutches or using a walker. And having a vulnerable, disabled child in the middle of a soccer match obviously changes the nature of the game. The Taylor boy was allowed to play, then suspended in mid-season for safety reasons. But compassion and access won out over common sense and safety concerns after a judge canceled the suspension for the final game. Officials allowed Taylor to play the entire next season, because the league preferred to avoid the cost and trouble of litigation. This is the likely model of future attempts to change the rules of sports by threatening legal action.
To produce a decision favorable to Martin, the Supreme Court had to cut a legal corner or two. Under Title III of the ADA, reasonable changes for disabled Americans are called for in public accommodations -- places where the public goes for recreation or exercise. As Scalia pointed out in his dissent, Congress had customers in mind, not members of private associations like Casey Martin and Tiger Woods. "Golf course" is specifically mentioned in the law, and italicized by Stevens, but that refers to the right of disabled persons to play themselves or to have access to watch tournaments. It does not refer to the professional athletes being watched.
The court's casual distortion of the intent of Congress and the plain meaning of the ADA was a legal trick by a willful court that does what it pleases. Scalia's argument on this point was powerful and should have carried the case. But no, it didn't. Another bad outing for the court, buried by all the predictable applause over access and sensitivity.