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US Supreme Court to Hear Cases on Tobacco, Whales

The United States Supreme Court returns to work Monday following a nearly three-and-a-half month recess.

Among other cases, the court will take up tobacco advertising and a dispute between the U.S. military and environmentalists.

The nation's highest court will begin its new term by hearing arguments in the tobacco case. Three smokers have sued the Altria Group, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, arguing the company misled smokers into thinking cigarettes labeled "light" were less hazardous to health.

A ruling in favor of the smokers would open cigarette manufacturers to a barrage of lawsuits.

On Wednesday, the court will hear from environmentalists who are challenging an exemption President George Bush granted the U.S. Navy from an environmental law protecting endangered whales.

Lower courts have ordered the Navy to stop using sonar off the southern California coast because it could harm the whales. But the Bush administration holds that judges cannot interfere with presidential authority in military matters.

Separately, the Supreme Court has been a topic of discussion in the U.S. presidential race.

Six of the nine justices are 69 years of age or older. The next president could nominate new justices to replace any who retire during his term.

The court is narrowly divided between conservatives and liberals, so future nominees could tilt the court's political balance one way or the other.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.