Casey at the Court
May 29, 2001

by Joe Sobran

     I love to play chess, but I usually lose. My 
opponents beat me with their knights. The other pieces 
move in straight lines, but knights move two spaces one 
way and another space sideways. It confuses me. I can't 
foresee what they may do, a terrible disadvantage. If it 
weren't for those blasted knights I might be the world 
chess champion.

     The solution to my problem is obvious: I must get 
the government to change the rules of chess. My inability 
to cope with the dynamics of knights should qualify as a 
handicap under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

     Obviously I'm inspired by the heroic example of the 
golfer Casey Martin. Martin has struck a blow for misfits 
everywhere by persuading the U.S. Supreme Court to decree 
that the Professional Golfers' Association must set aside 
its own rules and allow him to compete in a motorized 

     The federal government, particularly its judicial 
branch, seldom refuses an invitation to interfere in 
private institutions. The result is that fewer and fewer 
institutions are private.

     The Court should have told Martin: "No government 
agency should presume to dictate the rules of a sport, 
and the federal government in particular has no 
constitutional authority to do so. Setting aside the 
practical consideration that a group of people who make a 
living at golf are probably more competent to formulate 
its rules than we are, the ruling you seek simply isn't 
ours to make. Were we to make it, we would be guilty of 
what the authors of the Constitution would have called a 
tyrannical usurpation of power."

     Instead, the Court chose to exercise what the 
authors of the Constitution would have called a 
tyrannical usurpation of power. It's no less tyrannical 
for being so petty.

     C.S. Lewis once observed that it's no use telling 
the government to mind its own business, when the 
government feels that our whole lives are its business. 
That includes our golf games.

     Maybe Martin is right that golfers should be able to 
motor around the course in a tournament. But if so, it's 
up to him to convince the PGA, not coerce it. In trying 
to improve the game, he has betrayed it. He has 
undermined its very nature as a voluntary activity, a 
little exercise of freedom. In doing so, he has also 
brought the shadow of government coercion over every 
other voluntary activity and private association.

     Martin deserves a special niche in the annals of 
those who have sought to deprive their fellow citizens of 
liberties they had traditionally taken for granted. He is 
the enemy not only of professional golf but of everyone 
who wants to be left alone by the state. He claims 
"rights" that trump, and abolish, others' rights.

     It's only golf? Yes, it's only golf. That's what 
makes it so chilling. Nothing, however innocuous, is now 
safe from the tentacles of the total state.

     Former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan says we have 
"defined deviancy downward" -- tolerating the formerly 
intolerable, removing stigma from irresponsibility. We 
have also defined tyranny downward, meekly accepting 
impositions of government that would once have spurred 
Americans to angry resistance. A tyrant who stops short 
of mass murder is no longer considered a tyrant.

     No doubt Martin considers his Court victory a 
triumph for the handicapped. It isn't -- except to those 
handicapped persons who confuse privileges with rights, 
and want to give their own disabilities priority over 
other people's liberty. But then, that's exactly what the 
Americans with Disabilities Act invites them to do.

     Personally, I can't fathom such arrogance. Just as a 
matter of good manners, I couldn't bear to demand that 
the government force my neighbors to surrender a particle 
of their rights for my sake. I might, appealing to their 
kindness and mercy, ask them to accommodate me freely; 
but I'd accept their refusal without complaint. Simple 
civility would require me to respect their wishes.

     But Martin didn't ask. He chose to bully. He brought 
the Almighty State to bear on his own colleagues, 
preferring force to freedom. In this he was not only 
profoundly uncivil, but also supremely unsportsmanlike. 
He won't be remembered for any achievement on the links, 
but for debasing honest competition with victimology.

     As Tiger Woods will always represent the glory of 
golf, Casey Martin will be its eternal shame.


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