The government has prepared corrective statements it wants the companies to be forced to make about the health hazards from smoking. But the tobacco companies don't want those proposed statements put in the public record before they get a chance to review them.
In a court filing, the department asked the federal judge in the case, Gladys Kessler, to say whether she intends to prohibit the government from filing its proposed corrective statements publicly.
In 2006, Kessler ruled that the tobacco industry had concealed the dangers of smoking for decades. The proposed statements by the companies would be the remedy for that violation.
On Thursday night, Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, a defendant in the lawsuit, said it is working with the Justice Department on the issue.
"We have a meet-and-confer process that we have been following on a number of issues, as the court knows," Altria's statement said. "We will have the same process when the government gives us their proposal on corrective statements, which we have not seen yet."
In its court papers, the Justice Department said the companies misunderstand the way the statements were to be filed.
Last year, the Supreme Court left Kessler's ruling in place while also rejecting an appeal by the Obama administration, which was trying to extract billions of dollars from the industry either in past profits or to fund a national campaign to curb smoking.