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Supreme Court Says Casey Martin May Use Cart on PGA Tour

Aired May 29, 2001 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We've got some big decisions this hour from the highest court in the land, including a ruling on disabled pro golfer Casey Martin. The Supreme Court has ruled that he will now be able to use his golf cart while playing on tour. This is a victory for the ADA act and not the PGA.

We are going to get a little background now on this story from Charles Bierbauer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Casey Martin has no trouble hitting a golf ball, but getting around the golf course is tough.

CASEY MARTIN, GOLFER: Most people think I don't walk at all and that's not true. You know, I have to walk around the greens and get around that area. But, basically, once I tee off to my ball I ride.

BIERBAUER: Martin rides because he sued the PGA Tour and won the right to use a golf cart as an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. He has a rare circulatory disease in his withered right leg.

The PGA tour, which runs pro golf tournaments, told the justices, "Professional athletics are simply tests of excellence: who can perform best." The tour contends allowing one golfer to ride while others walk would fundamentally change the game.

MARTIN: I would say: Walk a mile in my shoes. I wouldn't do this if I felt I had an advantage.

BIERBAUER: The tour says that it's obligated to help disabled spectators outside of the ropes, but not accommodate the pros inside. Senators who wrote the law in 1990 say that was not their intent.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: I don't think that, Bob, when we passed the law, we meant to say there's a rope line. There's no rope line.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BIERBAUER: And there will be no rope line for Casey Martin. What the justices, in a 7-2 opinion, said is that riding a golf cart is not the central part of the game. The game is about shot-making. And Casey Martin certainly can do that. The ruling written by Justice John Paul Stevens said that the PGA does have to make an accommodation for him to get around the course because that's precisely of what the American With Disabilities Act sought to provide for individuals such as Casey Martin.

Does this open the gates for everyone to go out and play golf? No, you still have to be able to hit the ball the way Casey does. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the two dissenters, said he thought that this was a benevolent and compassionate decision by the court, but one that he was not sure the court had the authority to make -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Charles, when talking about whether riding a cart improves your game or not, how was this argument presented from both sides?

BIERBAUER: Well, the argument largely presented from the PGA Tour was that that they understood what the American With Disabilities Act was all about. It was to allow people to access to places that are called public accommodations. And a golf course is specified in the act as such a place.

The PGA Tour said: That's for spectators, not for people inside the rope, the players on the course, who must have equal conditions. Now, Justice Stevens, in writing the opinion of the court, said: Frankly, Casey Martin is more fatigued at the end of a day riding in a cart than he is -- than the other golfers are by walking, so that the fatigue factor, which the PGA Tour brought forward as something they wanted all contestants to feel in the same way, was not the primary factor here.

This will be seen as a major victory for the American With Disabilities Act and the disabilities community. But it has also got to be remembered that the law requires an individualized assessment. You have to take each person's situation into account. This doesn't open the golf courses or other sporting events to everyone who thinks they'd like to be able to play. They have still got to be able to compete -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Sure. And, Charles, the ADA will definitely be able to use this case as leverage in other cases, correct?

BIERBAUER: I am sorry. I didn't understand the question. I didn't hear the question.

PHILLIPS: The ADA will definitely be able to use this victory as leverage in other cases, correct?

BIERBAUER: Oh, absolutely. That's exactly what you do. You apply one case against the circumstances of another. And this was a very difficult case. Not everyone thought that Casey Martin would come out victorious because there is a distinction between access to a golf course and ability to play the game.

This will be seen probably as a very significant victory for the disability community, yes.

PHILLIPS: Senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer, thanks so much.

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