WASHINGTON -- Disabled golfer Casey Martin has a legal right to ride in a cart between shots at PGA Tour events, the Supreme Court said Tuesday.
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.
The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act bans discrimination against the disabled in public accommodations, including golf courses and entertainment sites. The law requires "reasonable modifications" for disabled people unless such changes would fundamentally alter the place or event.
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.
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