Court: Man can't name filly 'Sally Hemings'

Updated: August 7, 2007, 5:34 PM ET
Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a filly can't be named "Sally Hemings" after Thomas Jefferson's most famous slave and reputed lover.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the Jockey Club can legally bar horse owner Garrett Redmond from naming his 4-year-old horse after Hemings.

Judge Alice Batchelder, writing for the three-judge panel, said Redmond has other options that may be approved by the Jockey Club, which forbids horse owners from using names of famous or notorious people without special permission. The club'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.

"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 Jockey Club is a private organization designated by Kentucky to track and approve names of race horses. Without an approved name, a horse cannot race at a Kentucky track.

Jockey Club president Alan Marzelli said Tuesday about a third of the 60,000 names submitted each year are rejected, mostly because they are identical or similar to names already used. But this is the first time a complaint over a name has sparked a major legal battle, he said.

"Since we first denied this name, we've issued over 100,000 names," Marzelli said. "It's pretty silly. I can't think of another example in 24 years where we rejected a name and it started a fight. People just pick another name."

Attorneys who represented Redmond didn't immediately return a call for comment.

The horse, now known as "Awaiting Justice," ran at Churchill Downs on July 1 and at Ellis Park in Henderson on July 25. She did not finish in the top 3 in either race.

In May 2005, Redmond sued the racing authority and the Jockey Club after his request to name the horse for Hemings was denied. Redmond argued that the denial had deprived him of constitutional rights.

U.S. District Senior Judge Karl Forester had sided with the Jockey Club and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority in dismissing the lawsuit.

Batchelder wrote that 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.

She also 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.

"If he really wants to race or breed this horse in Kentucky, Mr. Redmond will have to come up with a name that complies with the Jockey Club's rules," Batchelder wrote. "A quick look at the Jockey Club's Registry confirms that 'Horse With No Name' is no longer available."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press