LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - It's not a horse with no name, but a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a filly can't be called "Sally Hemings."
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that The Jockey Club can legally bar horse owner Garrett Redmond of Paris, Ky., from naming his 4-year-old horse after Thomas Jefferson's most famous slave, who was also reputed to be his lover.
Judge Alice Batchelder, writing for the three-judge panel, said Redmond has other options that may be approved by The Jockey Club, a private organization designated by Kentucky to track and approve names of race horses.
Batchelder quoted Shakespeare's "What's in a name?" and cited the band America in rejecting Redmond's appeal.
"In short, because he has spent three years insisting he has a constitutional right to name his horse 'Sally Hemings' and that no other name will do, Mr. Redmond now finds himself, like the songster of the 70s, having 'been through the desert on a horse with no name,"' Batchelder wrote.
Redmond sued the racing authority and The Jockey Club in May 2005 after a request to name the horse for Hemings was denied. Redmond argued that the denial had deprived him of his constitutional rights.
Because The Jockey Club is a private organization with power delegated by the state, it may restrict free speech so long as it doesn't discriminate against a specific viewpoint, Batchelder wrote.
U.S. District Senior Judge Karl Forester had sided with The Jockey Club and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority in dismissing the lawsuit.
The Jockey Club forbids horse owners from using names of famous or notorious people without special permission. The organization's rules also say that "names considered in poor taste; or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups" won't be approved.
Without an approved name, a horse cannot race at a Kentucky track.
"To be sure, the First Amendment protects horse owners' rights to free speech, and we do not foreclose Mr. Redmond indiscriminately from asserting that right, but the right to free speech is not absolute in all contexts," Batchelder wrote.
The horse, now known as "Awaiting Justice," ran her most recent race July 1 at Churchill Downs, when she finished fifth.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)