Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Supreme Court’s Runaway AEDPA Train–And What Can Be Done About It Via Collateral Judicial Review. (Yes, this is technical language, but bear with me. I explain it.)

UPDATE: Elena Kagan served as an Associate White House Council in the Clinton administration in 1995-96, when AEDPA was being drafted and negotiated.

 

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“Freedom” does not include actual physical non-imprisonment; to the contrary, “freedom” means states’–or actually, state courts’–and prosecutors’ freedom to violate criminal defendants’ constitutional rights, to their heart’s content.

— Me, Angry Bear, Apr. 5

For about 24 hours this week, specifically between Tuesday morning and Wednesday morning, I thought that might be about to change.  The issue in Tuesday’s big affirmative action case, Scheutte v. BAMN, was not actually affirmative action.* It was instead whether a state voter initiative that amends the Constitution and that singles out minority races erects unconstitutionally high barriers to racial minorities’ practical ability to obtain a change in that policy, because it removes the possibility of gaining a change through the normal political and governmental processes.

Kennedy wrote the plurality opinion for himself, Roberts and Alito. Roberts also wrote a separate concurring opinion.  Breyer joined only in the outcome, writing a separate opinion only for himself. Scalia, joined by Thomas, wrote a separate opinion concurring in the judgment. Sotomayor, joined by Ginsburg, wrote a dissenting opinion.  Kagan did not participate.

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Now That the Supreme Court Has Found a Right to Vote in the First Amendment, Are State Laws Denying the Vote to Convicted Felons Unconstitutional? You Betcha.

“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”  That’s how Roberts began the opinion.

So I guess we can now assume that the Court will strike down all those voter-ID laws that so clearly impact that most basic of rights, and will do so by unanimous vote of the justices.

— The REAL News From the McCutcheon v. FCC Opinion, me, Apr. 3

Actually, I had thought the most basic right in our democracy was the right of states to violate individuals’ constitutional rights as they chose, courtesy of the fundamental constitutional principle of states’ equal sovereignty.  So my post and its title were intended as facetious.  But then AB reader Alex Bollinger reminded me in a comment to my post that Antonin Scalia had written in his concurrence in Bush v. Gore that the Constitution contains no generic guarantee to the right to vote.

I mean, sure, the Fifteenth Amendment says:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

But those Reconstructionist types who drafted and ratified that Amendment hadn’t checked with James Madison before presuming that there was a right of citizens of the United States to vote.  And, more important, they hadn’t checked with Roger Taney.

In any event, Scalia, by joining Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon, now agrees that the Constitution indeed guarantees a right to vote.  It does so in the First Amendment, which James Madison participated in drafting!  And which Roger Taney probably approved of.  (Whew!)

While that first sentence in McCutcheon doesn’t directly identify the First Amendment as the source of the right to participate in electing our political leaders, elsewhere in McCutcheon the First Amendment is expressly credited as guaranteeing that right.

I realized that this morning when I read Linda Greenhouse’s op-ed in today’s New York Times in which she pretty much sums up John Roberts along with McCutcheon.  She writes:

It wasn’t until the Roberts court’s Citizens United decision in 2010 that the court shrank the definition of corruption to quid pro quo bribery. To assess the implications of that shift, it’s important to remember what Citizens United was about: not direct contributions, which remain prohibited to corporations, but independent spending. In the Buckley decision and since, the court has accorded greater First Amendment protection to independent expenditures than to direct contributions, which it has viewed as more tightly linked to the anti-corruption rationale and thus properly subject to tighter regulation. To say that only quid pro quo corruption can justify a limit on independent expenditures was not to similarly limit the rationale for regulating direct contributions, the subject of the McCutcheon case.

But in his McCutcheon opinion, Chief Justice Roberts collapsed the distinction between the two, extending Citizens United’s narrow definition of corruption to direct contributions. The government “has a strong interest,” he wrote, “in combatting corruption and its appearance. We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.” Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s dissenting opinion called the chief justice out on this maneuver, but in vain.

Indeed.

Greenhouse’s main focus in that op-ed is Roberts’ ridiculously transparent pretenses to judicial minimalism, in McCutcheon and in his opinion last year striking down the key section of the Voting Rights Act case on the fundamental constitutional principle of states’ equal sovereignty introduced in 1885 by Chief Justice Taney in Dred Scott v. Sanford, and dormant since the Civil War began in 1861 until last year.  What Roberts actually is doing, as I wrote here in a series of posts, and as Greenhouse makes clear, is effectively rewriting the standard for judicial review of federal and state laws so that it’s now simply a game of sophistic, sleights-of-hand analogies and of redefinitions of common words and phrases.

Earlier this week, in what I thought would be my final post on that subject, I suggested that liberals should plan to pick up that Supreme-Court-can-now-casually-repeal-statutes-it-doesn’t-like ball and run with it, once they regain a 5-4 majority on the Court.  I said that there were several statutes that I could think of offhand that would be good candidates for this, including some that actually are unconstitutional, not necessarily as written but as the current Court majority has interpreted them, and as an example I cited the Federal Arbitration Act, which as it happens, is the law at issue in another article in the New York Times today: This one. (H/T Dan Crawford.)

And aren’t some of those anti-labor-union sections of Taft-Hartley unconstitutional?

But more immediately–and deadly seriously–I see no even-remotely logical ground upon which the state statutes that remove the franchise from convicted felons can survive McCutcheon’s statement that even corruption, other than that of the direct, explicit quid pro quo variety, cannot be limited, because we must ensure that the government’s efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.  Remember: This prohibition is in election-law statutes, not in criminal-sentencing statutes, which shouldn’t, but could, make a difference.  I hope challenges to those state laws begin soon.

Greenhouse points in her op-ed to a passage in McCutcheon in which Roberts justifies the de facto overruling of a part of Buckley v. Valeo, the first post-Watergate Supreme Court opinion that addressed campaign-finance law, by saying that, well, Buckley concerned another federal statute, not McCain-Feingold, which was enacted in 2002–and since Buckley, the Court’s conservative majority has partnered aggressively with usual-suspect Conservative Legal Movement lawyers and groups to rewrite First Amendment jurisprudence as a deregulation juggernaut.  Regulatory statutes that crowd doesn’t like but can’t repeal through the legislative process can be struck down as violations of the First Amendment!  Call it playing the First Amendment card.

Which of course could butt up against the fundamental constitutional principle of states’ equal sovereignty.  But which, in light of McCutcheon, would look like pure partisanship, concerning state election laws that deny the vote to convicted felons. Which may not matter.

As I suggested in another post this week, liberals and libertarians can play the McCutcheon First Amendment card in another respect: pushing for legislation (or an SEC rule) that would prohibit publicly-traded corporations to from making political expenditures–and, eventually, direct campaign contributions–unless the corporation first gets approval from a majority of shareholders.  As I pointed out in that earlier post, a passage from McCutcheon itself seems to imply that the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them is a right of personal choice that, Citizens United notwithstanding, cannot be co-opted derivatively without intentional delegation.

I ended that post by saying that the conservative majority’s petards can hoist only so much before shrapnel lands so visibly in unintended places that it becomes impossible to hide it.  And, who knows? Maybe I’m right.

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*Cross-posted at The Law of the Jungle.

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Can the SEC prohibit publicly-traded corporations from making political expenditures (and, eventually, direct campaign contributions) unless the corporation first gets approval from a majority of shareholders?

It’s already become something of a favorite parlor game among liberals, especially among liberal law geeks, to speculate about when the Supreme Court will strike down state and federal statutes that prohibit corporations from making direct campaign contributions to candidates and political parties. In Citizens United, the court killed statutory bars to corporate and union political so-called-independent expenditures, and, in McCutcheon, removed aggregate limits to human beings’ direct contributions to candidates and parties.  But, for now, state and federal laws prohibiting direct corporate and union contributions–some of these laws dating back to the early part of the last century, as I understand it–remain intact.

To the surprise of some (but not me), the Court refused last week to hear a challenge by an incorporated nonprofit political organization.  The most obvious likely reason that they declined is that, as a public relations matter, it simply is too soon after McCutcheon for them to take this step in what everyone by now recognizes as a juggernaut.

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John Roberts Unwittingly Paves the Way for Eventual Wholesale Liberal Judicial Repeal of Statutes, Too

Chief Justice Roberts’ attempt to portray his decision in McCutcheon v. FEC as minimalist actually shows just how far from minimalist it is. According to the Chief Justice, no one should worry about the consequences of the Court’s decision because “there are multiple alternatives available” that would accomplish the Government’s asserted interest without, in the majority’s view, unnecessarily abridging First Amendment rights.  It would be a comforting thought if there were any truth to it.  But as Rick has pointed out, there is no chance that these alternatives will come to pass: Congress is not going to pass any new campaign finance laws (this Congress barely passes any laws at all, as the Chief surely knows), and the FEC is not going to strengthen its enforcement of existing laws (Republican commissioners on the FEC are no more in favor of campaign finance regulation than Republican members of Congress).

But what today’s Congress would do tells us little, if anything, about what the Congress that enacted the aggregate contribution limit would have done had it known that the Supreme Court would conclude that aggregate contribution limits are unconstitutional.  Would it have adopted one or more of the Chief’s proposed alternatives?  Quite possibly.  And that fact illustrates one of the most problematic, but also overlooked, aspects of judicial review—that it can produce disruptions to democratic preferences that are not constitutionally required.

— The False Minimalism of John Roberts, Brianne Gorod, Election Law Blog, Apr. 8

John Roberts’ Apr. 2 opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC is the opinion that keeps on giving, to liberal legal geeks, anyway. The opinion contains so many controversial (and, in my opinion, downright weird) statements–redefinitions of common English-language words and phrases, sophistic purported analogies, tautologies, and jaw-droppingly overt hypocrisy–that law professors, legal journalists, and hobbyist bloggers (like me!) no sooner finish writing about one statement in the opinion than we think of another aspect of the opinion that we want to write about.

I myself am pretty much McCutcheoned out by now, but before I take a break from it, I want to make two suggestions to progressives.  One is that they look ahead to when the current ideological majority no longer holds the majority–Ginsburg and Breyer are not the only justices who are aging, Ginsburg is not the only one who has health problems–and start selecting various statutes they dislike, and plan to challenge them as unconstitutional. As Gorod writes:

Judicial review is generally (and rightly) justified as an integral part of our constitutional system; it ensures that laws and regulations are consistent with our nation’s highest law.  In McCutcheon, the Court’s majority claims that the aggregate contribution limits cannot stand because they violate the First Amendment.  Whether one agrees with that conclusion or not (and as I and others have written, there are many reasons to disagree with it), most would find unobjectionable the general principle that laws that are inconsistent with the Constitution should not stand.  But as I have written elsewhere, judicial review often produces disruptions to democratic preferences that are not constitutionally required, and that is a much more significant problem.

Gorod, and others, detail a hallmark of Roberts’ strategy: Striking down as unconstitutional some key portion of an ideologically charged statute, and recommend possible substitute statutes and pronounce the ruling therefore minimalist although the substitutes could not be enacted in the current political climate and under current Citizens United-effectuated funding realities.  Roberts is fabricating constitutional grounds upon which to effectively repeal statutes enacted by earlier congresses. But by removing the institutional barriers to judicial repeal of statutes via semantics and gimmickry, he’s establishing precedent for progressives to do the same down the road.

There are a number of federal statutes I can think of that are excellent candidates for eventual liberal judicial repeal, now that the standard for judicial repeal has been so starkly and plainly lowered.  But one easy one is the Federal Arbitration Act, which, as written, is not unconstitutional, but which, as effectively rewritten by the 5-4 crowd, arguably is.  But there’s no longer any need for progressive justices, once they gain a majority, to limit themselves to striking down statutes that are, or are being interpreted in ways that make them, objectively or even arguably unconstitutional.  All that’s necessary going forward is a redefinition of a common word or phrase, and a transparently false analogy or two, and … voila!  What Roberts thinks is clever manipulation, I view as playing with fire.

Including backfire.

In another post, I’ll suggest that Congress or the SEC can prohibit publicly-traded corporations from making political expenditures (or, eventually, because that soon will become necessary, direct corporate campaign contributions) unless the corporation first gets approval from a majority of its shareholders.

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Cross-posted at The Law of the Jungle.

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John Roberts Introduces a New Favorite Tactic This Term: Sleights-of-Hand Analogies

Roberts suggested that he believes Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood can bring forth claims of religious freedom, saying courts have held that “corporations can bring racial discrimination claims as corporations” and that “those cases involve construction of the term ‘person.’”

John Roberts Offers Conservatives A Way Out Of Birth Control Dilemma, Sahil Kapur, TPM, Mar. 26

About which I wrote a post here the next day titled: “Turns out Alito isn’t the only justice who conflates the Securities Exchange Act with state-law corporate-structure statutes.  Roberts does, too!  (Unless, that is, racial-minority-owned corporations are denied access to restaurants and hotels when traveling.  Or something.)

Yep. Unless, that is, racial-minority-owned corporations are denied access to restaurants and hotels when traveling.  Or something.

What I was referring to was this, from that post of  Kapur’s about the argument on Mar. 26 in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, the two consolidated cases challenging as violative of the First Amendment’s free exercise clause the ACA’s employer contraceptive-coverage mandate, in which a threshold issue is whether corporations can exercise religion and therefore are “persons” within the meaning of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

After observing that “eight courts of appeals, every court of appeal to have looked at the situation have held that corporations can bring racial discrimination claims as corporations,” the Chief Justice asked:

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What the Supreme Court’s refusal today to agree to decide whether to strike down the federal statute that bars corporations from making contributions directly to candidates and political parties might suggest about the outcome of Hobby Lobby

When donors furnish widely distributed support within all applicable base limits, all members of the party or supporters of the cause may benefit, and the leaders of the party or cause may feel particular gratitude. That grati­tude stems from the basic nature of the party system, in which party members join together to further common political beliefs, and citizens can choose to support a party because they share some, most, or all of those beliefs. … To recast such shared interest, standing alone, as an opportunity for quid pro quo corruption would dramatically expand government regulation of the politi­cal process.

– John Roberts, McCutcheon v. FEC, Apr. 2, 2014

My reaction when I read that last: OMG! You mean it’s finally occurred to Roberts and Kennedy that CEOs of publicly-held corporations don’t actually necessarily share the same political views as all those other members of these “associations of citizens” from whom the CEO, er, the corporation, derives its First Amendment speech rights?  (And religious rights, too, although that’s another case, isn’t it?)

Actually, that was a comment I posted to a Slate article last week about McCutcheon that included the above quote from that opinion.  The religious-rights cases I had in mind were, of course, the Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, the for-profit-corporation ACA-contraceptive-mandate cases, which were argued at the court on Mar. 25.

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Two Yale law professors think they know what, exactly, the APPEARANCE of quid pro quo corruption looks like. They don’t. But I do.

If the president is to be taken seriously, it’s time for him to make campaign finance a centerpiece of the upcoming campaign. Despite appearances, serious reform remains possible within the new limits set out by the Roberts court. Obama should take full advantage of the chief justice’s explicit recognition that the “appearance of corruption” serves as a compelling rationale for controlling contributions. This provides a meaningful roadmap for concrete reforms that will call a halt to the rise of plutocracy in American politics.

Consider, for example, the pathologies surrounding Wall Street’s defense of the loophole allowing big money to pay only 15 percent tax on investments as “carried interest.” To defend their right to pay lower rates than the average worker, hedge funds have doubled their political contributions from $20 million in 2008 to $40 million in 2012; yet more recently, private equity firms have entered the contribution business in a big way for the first time.

All Eyes on Obama: Obama needs to put his money where his mouth is on campaign finance reform, Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres, Slate, yesterday

In this post of mine here on Thursday, I mentioned that Roberts said in McCutcheon that Congress could still “regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption,”  but then limited “corruption” to an actual quid pro quo. Which I think there’s no question that he did. I then said this raises the question of what, exactly, the appearance of quid pro quo corruption looks like.  “Y’know, as opposed to the real thing,” I said.

Ackerman and Ayres, both of them Yale law professors, want Obama to try to push Congress to hold Roberts to the “appearance of corruption” thing. Which, as reflected in that quote above, would require an express statutory bar to large campaign contributions–to candidates and also, presumably, political parties–by anyone who made the contribution in order to obtain or prevent an end to favorable tax, subsidy or regulatory legislation, if that candidate wins (or that party wins control) and then does the bidding of the contributor.

That conduct is comfortably within most Americans’ definition of actual (if legal) corruption, I think, but it is expressly precluded from Roberts’ definition of “corruption” and also from his definition of the appearance of corruption. Still, the professors go on to say:

The impact of this rapid expansion in large gifts was recently on display when Republican Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, proposed a sweeping tax reform that would have eliminated this, and many other, loopholes that allow the top 1 percent to pay taxes at lower rates than those imposed on the average working family. Within days, threats of campaign retribution had generated widespread opposition in congressional ranks, leading a despairing Camp to announce that, despite his powerful position, he would not seek another term in office.

This stunning defeat of a reigning congressional baron, together with the escalating sums of big money, is more than enough to establish the “appearance of corruption.” Under present law, for example, federal contractors are not allowed to “make any contribution of money or other things of value” to “any political party, committee, or candidate.” After reviewing relevant case-law, a federal district judge upheld the ban because it “guards against ‘pay-to-play’ arrangements, in which people seeking federal contracts provide financial support to political candidates in return for their help securing government business.”

The same rationale should lead President Obama to propose a ban on contributions from taxpayers benefiting from the “carried interest” loophole. Going further, he should cap donations on any person who pays a lower tax rate than the rate of the average worker.

I assume that Ackerman and Ayres are sarcastically making the point that I tried to make: that McCutcheon actually limits campaign-finance laws to prohibiting what already violates criminal law: bribery.

But this illustrates an even more important point.  A key modus operandi of that crowd is to effectively amend the Constitution by redefining common English-language words and phrases, to the extent needed to achieve their goal.

“Corruption” means only smoking-gun quid pro quo. The “appearance of corruption” means only smoking-gun quid pro quo.

“Freedom” does not include actual physical non-imprisonment; to the contrary, “freedom” means states’–or actually, state courts’and prosecutors’ freedom to violate criminal defendants’ constitutional rights, to their heart’s content.

“People” means “states,” except that it really doesn’t, usually; it only does when the Voting Rights Act is being challenged as an unconstitutional infringement of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of due process and equal protection of the law. Heretofore (that is, since that Amendment’s ratification in 1868, until last year)  the Fourteenth Amendment was thought to guarantee those rights only to human beings, and its sole purpose was interpreted to protect only against states’ violations of those rights, since that is what it says; the Amendment does limit the guarantees to “people” and protects only against state–not the federal government’s–violations of those rights.

Just so you know, the section of the Fourteenth Amendment that Roberts, Kennedy, et al. said they were relying on to strike a key section of the Voting Rights Act last year, upon their stated conclusion that that section guarantees states the right to equal protection of federal laws, reads:

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And, of course, “people” means for-profit corporations, for purposes of First Amendment freedoms.

This is a seriously dangerous tactic, being employed now, regularly, by a bare majority of our country’s Supreme Court.  They de facto amend the Constitution to change its very nature, and of course not incidentally the very nature of the electoral process, simply by giving unconventional meanings to common words.

I do disagree, strongly, though, with Ackerman’s and Ayres’ proposition that Obama himself constitutes the end-all-and-be-all of making McCutcheon a significant campaign issue this year (or not). A huge problem for the Democrats, throughout the Obama administration, has been the failure of members of Congress and candidates for Congress to pick up Obama’s bizarre slack–on the ACA, on Keynesian economics, and on other critically important policy issues. Obama’s not going to change.  So what? This year’s Dem candidates can get these messages across on their own.

If they want to.  And they should want to.

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*Post edited substantially and expanded. 4-6

** Now cross-posted at my own newly minted blog, called … The Law of the Jungle.

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No, Mr. Kleiner, John Roberts showed that he knows perfectly well how money works in politics.

An article by Sam Kleiner posted yesterday on the New Republic’s website is titled “John Roberts shows he has no idea how money works in politics.”

Mr. Kleiner must not understand the real purpose of the Conservative Movement’s decades-long crusade against campaign-finance laws.  In fact, Roberts showed in McCutcheon v. FEC (yet again) that he knows perfectly well how money works in politics.

If you get my drift.

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The REAL news from the McCutcheon v. FEC opinion

“There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders.”  That’s how Roberts began the opinion.

So I guess we can now assume that the Court will strike down all those voter-ID laws that so clearly impact that most basic of rights, and will do so by unanimous vote of the justices.

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UPDATE: Reader Alex Bollinger wrote this morning in a comment to this post:

Remember when the Republican SC justices (no, I will not pretend they’re apolitical) wrote an opinion in Bush v. Gore that there’s no right to vote? And that Scalia said, several times in oral arguments on that case, that no where in the plain text of the Constitution does it say that there’s a right to vote? This finding was fundamental to their argument – if there’s no right to vote, then they could discuss and bend state election law as they’d like without respect for voters’ participation in democracy.

I’m glad these folks finally found that right! Too bad rights magically disappear and reappear based on whether they further Republican Party goals.

To which I responded:

Alex, thank you so much for reminding me that Scalia said in Bush v. Gore (and elsewhere) that the Constitution provides no right to vote!  No, no, they didn’t recognize a constitutional right to vote, in McCutcheon. They just said the obvious: that there is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders, because “participate in electing our political leaders” means only campaign contributions.

Democracy is a synonym for capitalism, Alex.  It says so in the First Amendment.

And “hypocrisy”–bald, jaw-dropping hypocrisy–is a synonym for the Conservative Legal Movement.

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OK, so what exactly does the APPEARANCE of quid pro quo corruption look like? Y’know, as opposed to the real thing.

John Roberts wrote in yesterday’s opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC that Congress may still “regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption.”  He then limited “corruption” to an actual quid pro quo.

Which raises the question of what, exactly, the appearance of quid pro quo corruption looks like.  Y’know, as opposed to the real thing.

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