At the Supreme Court: Navy 1, Whales 0

Environmentalists say ruling that lifts sonar restrictions will harm whales.

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The Supreme Court today ruled against restrictions on the Navy's use of sonar in training exercises off the California coast, a practice that environmentalists say can harm whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals.

The court, in its first decision of the term, voted 5 to 4 that the Navy needs to conduct realistic training exercises to respond to potential threats by enemy submarines. The high court opinion, written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, rejected a lower court's injunction that had required the Navy to take precautions during submarine-hunting exercises.

Environmentalists had won rulings in lower federal courts in California imposing restrictions on sonar use in naval exercises. The Bush administration argued that there is little evidence of harm to marine life in more than 40 years of exercises off the California coast.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer dissented in part and agreed in part with the ruling, while Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter disagreed with the entire decision.

  • Click here for a U.S. background report on the controversy.
  • Click here for more on the Supreme Court ruling.