On this day in 2001, the case PGA Tour Inc v Martin was decided. This was when Casey Martin sued the PGA for the right to compete in their golf tournaments using a golf cart. According to the official rules, golfers must walk the course. But Martin was born with Klippel–Trénaunay syndrome, which made it difficult to walk. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act and won. I’m mixed on this issue. On the one hand, I’m glad for Martin and I think he should have been able to play using a golf cart. On the other hand, why in the hell is a silly sporting event making its way to the Supreme Court?
But speaking of silly, Scalia and Thomas dissented in this case. (I’m sure Alito would have too, had he been on the court at that time.) They argued Martin should have to walk because of… Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron.” I’ve always (really: always) thought it was a stupid story. What I most remember from it is the ballet where the dancers are weighted down so as to equalize their abilities. The story satirizes attempts to mandate egalitarianism. The problem is that every conservative on the planet uses this childish short story as the ultimate slippery slope result of any and all attempts to create a more equal society.
I’ve always felt that Vonnegut was an overrated writer. I still admire him, but people think him far more clever than he ever was. And “Harrison Bergeron” is him at his worst and most facile. There is literally no point to the story. It is more or less Atlas Shrugged without the “happy” ending. The thinking that goes into the story is the same kind of sub-Nietzschean nonsense that Ayn Rand peddled. But what are we to think? That feeding poor children will lead to the elimination of talents? Had Vonnegut thought the whole thing through, he would have realized that such “egalitarian” laws would naturally make people seek out endeavors where they would not need to be handicapped. But of course, diving into the questions he raised was never his thing.
Vonnegut certainly must have hated the way his story was used, at the same time it reinforced his generally low appraisal of humanity. But it isn’t surprising that minds as simplistic as Scalia and Thomas (neither would need radio device to disrupt their thoughts if they lived in the world of “Harrison Bergeron”) would grab on to the most careless and simplistic of Vonnegut’s allegories. But at least seven of the justices sided with Casey Martin. Of course, today, it would only be five or maybe six.
Happy anniversary to PGA Tour Inc v Martin. In another ten years, it may well be overturned!