Jan. 16, 2001 -- Tomorrow, Jan. 17, the U. S. Supreme Court hears the case of professional golfer Casey Martin, who sued the PGA Tour under the Americans with Disabilities Act in order to be allowed to use a golf cart to accommodate his disability (leg pain and weakness which is the result of a circulatory disorder). The case has been high-profile since its inception.
Yesterday's Los Angeles Times reported on the issues in the case on the front of its sports section. "Wheels of justice: This week, PGA Tour takes appeal of Martin's lower-court victory to the U.S. Supreme Court," by Times sports writer Thomas Bonk (online at http://www.latimes.com/sports/times/20010115/t000004217.htm) was an evenhanded overview of what's at stake. Bonk interviewed ADA chief sponsor Sen. Tom Harkin (D. IA) who'd overseen an amicus brief in the case. "The PGA Tour is a public entity--you pay your money and you try to qualify, so it's open to the public," Harkin told Bonk, "-- and allowing Casey to use a cart is a reasonable accommodation and does not fundamentally alter the nature of the competition." Bonk also quoted PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs with the PGA's take on the issue.
By contrast, USA Today Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic (formerly of The Washington Post) seemed to be slipping a little editorial tone into her story with her lede that "The Supreme Court this week will examine just how far the Americans With Disabilities Act goes in assuring access to public places when it considers the plight of pro golfer Casey Martin, who wants to use a cart in tournaments because of a painful circulatory disorder" ("Golfer's fight hits Supreme Court," online at http://www.usatoday.com/news/washdc/2001-01-14-martin.htm). Bonk had used neither "plight," "painful" nor other emotional terms to refer to Martin. Biskupic's "just how far" angle extended to the larger number of Martin opponents she interviewed.
Tomorrow's arguments will only renew a media back-and-forth about the ADA that has been going on for quite some time. In October, when the Court announced it would hear the case, nationally syndicated columnists Marianne Means -- usually considered a liberal -- and James J. Kilpatrick -- a conservative -- both wrote columns denouncing Martin's legal battle.
"I cannot see why the PGA Tour should be forced to accommodate a golfer who does not meet its physical requirements," wrote Means. "It is not "reasonable" to expect the U.S. Open to abandon physical fitness as a criterion for the championship."
After noting that "it would take a heart of granite not to be moved" by Martin's "plight," Kilpatrick wrote, "If truly disabled golfers are entitled to special privileges, what about the almost disabled golfers -- the players with tendinitis, arthritic knees and serious pain in the lower back?"
Means and Kilpatrick are married to each other: "We independently arrived at the same opinion, a rarity indeed and a subject of some startled alarm on both our parts," wrote Means.