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Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia exercised a rarely used power last fall to let Philip Morris USA and three other big tobacco companies delay making multimillion-dollar payments for a program to help people quit smoking.

Scalia, a cigarette smoker himself, justified acting on his own by predicting that at least three other justices would see things his way and want to hear the case, and that the high court then would probably strike down the expensive judgment against the companies.

This week, the court said he was wrong about that.

On a court that almost always acts as a group, Scalia singlehandedly blocked a state court order requiring the tobacco companies to pay $270 million to start a smoking cessation program in Louisiana. The payment was ordered as part of a class-action lawsuit that Louisiana smokers filed in 1996. They won a jury verdict seven years ago.

Scalia said in September that the companies met a tough standard to justify the Supreme Court's intervention.

"I think it reasonably probable that four justices will vote to grant certiorari," Scalia said, using the legal term to describe the way the court decides to hear most appeals, "and significantly possible that the judgment below will be reversed."

Not only did the justices say Monday they were leaving the state court order in place, there were not even four votes to hear the companies' full appeal. And the court provided no explanation of its action.


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