USA

The Supreme Court, in the first major case to come before it under new Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., heard arguments Wednesday on physician- assisted suicide. The case, an appeal in a turf battle, considers whether the federal government has the power to block doctors from helping terminally ill patients end their lives. Oregon is the only state in which such suicides are legal, but others could follow suit.

Unable to put together the financing to maintain full staffing, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (D) said Tuesday that he'll lay off as many as 3,000 nonessential city employees, or about half the workforce. The cuts are expected to trim as much as $8 million from a $20 million monthly payroll. Meanwhile, The Washington Post, citing Red Cross and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials, said that because other housing options haven't materialized, 400,000 people left homeless by Katrina will continue to live in hotels. The plan to relocate them by Oct. 15 will be extended indefinitely at an estimated $8.3 million a day.

The Environmental Protection Agency told Congress Tuesday that $507 million was spent last year cleaning up 40 of the most hazardous US waste sites, bringing the total number to 900 since the federal Superfund program began decontamination efforts in 1980. Another 1,237 such sites remain.

Investigators trying to determine the cause of a tourist boat accident on Lake George, N.Y., that killed 20 senior citizens have turned their attention to excess weight as a possible cause of the capsizing, reports said.

No candidate won a majority of the vote in Tuesday's special election to fill an Orange County, Calif., congressional seat. The outcome forces a December runoff that will pit former state Sen. John Campbell (R), the favorite, against several other candidates, including Jim Gilchrist, founder of a volunteer border patrol group.

Robert Grubbs of Caltech and Richard Schrock of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology join Frenchman Yves Chauvin as corecipients of the 2005 Nobel Prize in chemistry. They'll share a $1.3 million award for their work in metathesis, a method for causing atoms to change places that's used in reducing hazardous waste from drug and plastics production.

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