Supreme Court

Change Doesn't Just Happen

With just over a week to go until the election, things are popping at People For. I want to let you know how we're using your support to make an impact on many fronts.

The Voters Alliance: Building Progressive Power

People For the American Way's federal political action committee is helping build a progressive majority in Congress. We were thrilled that an extremely successful online contest run by the Voters Alliance raised more than $130,000 for 24 progressive House candidates. And now the Voters Alliance is working with Oscar-winning director Errol Morris and volunteers from the award-winning advertising firm Chiat Day (of Apple fame) to create short but powerful online profiles of moderate voters who have decided that Obama has earned their vote. The spots are being digitally filmed and edited this week in time for a final pre-election push. I'll let you know when they're ready to watch online and forward to your friends.

Sounding the Alarm: The Court is at Stake

People For the American Way has succeeded in getting media and progressive candidates talking about the importance of the Supreme Court in this election. Now we're kicking it up a notch, with TV spots for Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, reminding voters that senators have hurt their interests by backing Bush's extreme judges. People For the American Way Action Fund has been running radio ads holding John McCain and other senators accountable for voting to confirm Bush's worst judicial nominees.

Confronting Homophobia and Anti-Gay Discrimination

In California, where the Right has stirred a vicious backlash against a state Supreme Court ruling protecting marriage equality, People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council has launched a radio ad campaign calling on African Americans to reject anti-gay discrimination. Check out the ads here. This work is part of a long-term effort to engage clergy and challenge homophobia in the Black Church and in African American communities. Rev. Kenneth Samuel, the courageous and inspiring head of AAMLC's Equal Justice Task Force, is on the ground in California now, and he'll be leading this groundbreaking effort to create social change in the months and years ahead.

Calling out the Promoters of Fear and Hatred

We're also challenging campaign tactics that are stirring up a dangerous brew of fear and bigotry. For example, when John McCain falsely accused a progressive voter registration group of trying to steal the election, its offices were barraged with hateful and threatening messages. We made it impossible to ignore this hostility and bigotry by posting images and audio of the actual messages online for the world to see. And with a full-page ad in the New York Times and other media outreach we have worked hard to help people understand that bogus charges of voter fraud are meant to give cover to the real threat to the election from right-wing voter suppression. Our Right Wing Watch blog has been all over the Religious Right's bigotry and fearmongering.

Overcoming Voter Suppression

People For the American Way Foundation's Democracy Campaign staff have been traveling the country training community organizers who are running election protection efforts and distributing in-depth, state-specific voter protection toolkits. With the help of SEIU, NAACP, NEA, Unity 08, Democracia Ahora and other partners, our Foundation has distributed more than 180,000 palm cards in key states to help voters understand and protect their rights. The Foundation is working with allies to recruit poll workers where they're sorely needed and will be distributing inexpensive video cameras to members who will document what happens on Election Day. There's no way to stop all the dirty tricks that the Right has in store, but People For Foundation has been working hard to put protections in place, and after the election it will work hard to figure out what went wrong this time, and fight for legal and regulatory fixes. Two New York Times editorials in the past week have confirmed that voter fraud is a myth and affirmed the importance of the Election Protection work the Foundation is doing to help voters understand and assert their rights.

Change is in the air, but as you know, it doesn't just happen. We all need to make it happen. With your help, we and our allies are going to change the country! Thanks so much for making it all possible.

PFAW

The Choice Is Clear

If you haven't already gotten a chance, be sure to read Joan Biskupic's article on the Supreme Court in today's USA Today, a good primer on the choice that voters face on Election Day.

The appointment of life-tenured judges can be an administration's most consequential legacy, as Obama and McCain observed in last week's debate. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices are age 70 or older, so a new president might have to make multiple appointments.

Because the court is tightly split over issues such as abortion rights, race-based policies and the handling of Guantanamo Bay detainees, even a change of one justice could alter the law across the nation for decades to come.

The article does contain one line of very generous understatement.

[Palin] has invoked God on public occasions and suggested she does not believe in a high wall to separate church and state.

I think that's a pretty safe inference.

The website also offers a fun little SCOTUS quiz.  (I don't mean to brag, but I aced it.)

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Obama Endorsements and the Court

As the Editor & Publisher reported yesterday, Barack Obama is winning the race for newspaper endorsements in a landslide, 112-39.  Especially notable is the fact that at least 25 papers that supported Bush in 2004 have endorsed Obama this time around.

The Supreme Court consistently appears as one of the foremost concerns.

The Kansas City Star, a key swing state paper, touts a prospective Obama administration as a “safeguard for liberties”:

Obama wants judges who won’t favor the strong at the expense of the weak. He offers hope for a Supreme Court that would reject excessive executive power and protect precious freedoms.

The Santa Fe New Mexican writes:

At least as important is that we can also trust him to restore the credibility of our judiciary as vacancies occur at district and appellate levels, as well as at the Supreme Court. Civil liberties in particular, and justice in general, have suffered enormously in recent years.

Obama endorsers understand that the Supreme Court is on the ballot November 4th, and they understand the importance of repairing the damage done to the federal court system by the Bush administration.  Obama, if elected, will have a mandate to do just that.

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Joe the Plumber May Not Be Able To Vote

Check this out.  The Dayton Daily News is reporting that because Joe "The Plumber" Wurzellbacher's last name is spelled with an "o" not a "u" on the registration rolls, he could be knocked off the rolls under a policy advocated by the Ohio Republican Party in a suit it has filed against the Ohio Secretary of State.  The GOP is trying to get the Secretary of State to send to county board of elections "mismatches" - including ones like these -- where the name on the registration is different from the name on DMV or Social Security records. Jennifer Bruner, the Secretary of State, says the action the Ohio GOP is pressing for could disenfranchise up to 200,000 voters. TheGOP is stirring the pot about ACORN and worried that some election official might let Mickey Mouse vote? Give me a break. Let Joe the Plumber vote, and then let's foucs on the real problem - systematic efforts by the Right to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters

And this just in - it looks like the U.S. Supreme Court has just stayed a lower court order that would have required the Secretary of State to send out these lists of mismatches. Stay tuned for more on that!

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VIDEO: The End of Choice?

In case you aren't already convinced that next month's election is pretty frickin' important, here's something else to consider: the next president will almost certainly have the power to shape the future of the Supreme Court for decades to come.

What does that mean for Roe v. Wade — and the future of reproductive rights in this country? We put together a short video that walks through some scary math. Click here to check it out.

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Three Decades of Covering the Court

Radar magazine has a great interview this week with Linda Greenhouse, who recently retired after 30 years of covering the Supreme Court for The New York Times.

It's a long, wide-ranging interview, so I'd recommend reading the whole thing, but here's one of the best bits:  Greenhouse talking about the Court's power to make the world better — particularly in terms of advancing gay rights. She refers here to the Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas to strike down a law that essentially made it a crime to be gay.

I talk about gay rights quite a lot as a marker of how much better off we are. I believe that very strongly. I think that was probably the most gripping scene I ever witnessed at the Court—when Kennedy read the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas. Usually, when you go up to the Court, you don't know what's coming that day. But it was the last day of the term, and Lawrence was the last undecided case. So everybody knew, and the Court was filled with gay and lesbian members of the Supreme Court bar. When Kennedy got to where he said Bowers v. Hardwick was wrong when it was decided, it's wrong today, and we hereby overrule it, all these lawyers in the bar section started crying. It was just a wonderful scene. It was great.

Judith Schaeffer, our former legal director, wrote a great reflection on Lawrence v. Texas this past June, on the five-year anniversary of the landmark decision. Read it here.

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Marriage in Connecticut!

Break out the chilled champagne!

As you may have already heard, the Connecticut State Supreme Court today ruled that the state constitution prohibits marriage discrimination.  That means that *gasp* same-sex couples will be treated like everyone else!

It is, of course, worth pointing out one really obvious fact that the right wing will no doubt conveniently forget.

The ruling does not affect church's decisions about which marriages to perform and which not to.

Please, repeat that statement whenever you hear someone talking about how this decision "infringes on religious liberty."  (It doesn't.)  Churches will always have final say over their own ceremonies.

You can read more about the myths surrounding this decision here.

Now where's that champagne?

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LA Times: Roe in the Balance

In case you didn't see, our president, Kathryn Kolbert, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times yesterday:

Some advocates worry that the perennial cries of "Roe is falling" has had the effect of muting such claims.

"What we find scary is that people don't understand what's at stake," said Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way. "In the next four years, one to as many as three Supreme Court justices may step down, and they all will come from the liberal end of the court."

It is absolutely critical that voters understand that the Supreme Court is on the ballot this Election Day.  The kind of judges the next president will nominate to the Court will determine its direction for decades.

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Biden on Bork

At the Vice Presidential debate last night, Joe Biden referenced his leadership against Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

And it didn't take me long -- it was hard to change, but it didn't take me long, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference.

That's why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don't like and the American people wouldn't like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

Biden is entirely correct.  The ideology of a judge matters immensely.  Right wing judges who bring a political agenda to the courts have no business being nominated or confirmed.

Of course, Joe Biden wasn’t alone in leading the fight against Bork.  People For the American Way led the campaign in the public arena, including this ad, narrated by Gregory Peck.

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Video: Palin on the Supreme Court

Here's more video from Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric — in which Couric asks her to name Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with and she lapses into confounded silence after naming only one, Roe v. Wade.

I realize that the larger thing we should be concerned about is McCain and what sorts of justices he'd nominate as president — because the next president could potentially name up to three, going by the current justices' ages and chances of retiring.

But it's worth noting (and being kinda horrified by) the fact that Palin — the person who could be, as the media likes to say, "a heartbeat away" from having the power to shape the direction the high court takes for the next 40 years — can't extemporaneously name more than one Supreme Court case she disagrees with.


COURIC: What other Supreme Court decisions [than Roe v. Wade] do you disagree with?

PALIN: Well, let's see. There's — of course — in the great history of America rulings there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are — those issues, again, like Roe v Wade where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know — going through the history of America, there would be others but —

Video/transcript via Ben Smith of The Politico.

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Dissecting Sarah Palin's Logic: Ledbetter and Fair Pay

A portion of Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin that aired Tuesday focused, among other things, on equal pay.  The transcript:

Couric: Where do you stand on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

Palin: I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work. The Ledbetter pay act - it was gonna turn into a boon for trial lawyers who, I believe, could have taken advantage of women who were many, many years ago who would allege some kind of discrimination. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.

Couric: The Ledbetter act sort of lengthens the time a woman can sue her company if she's not getting equal pay for equal work. Why should a fear of lawsuits trump a woman's ability to do something about the fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that's today.

Palin: There should be no fear of a lawsuit prohibiting a woman from making sure that the laws that are on the books today are enforced. I know in a McCain-Palin administration we will not stand for any measure that would result in a woman being paid less than a man for equal work.

Couric: Why shouldn’t the Ledbetter act be in place? You think it would result in lawsuits brought by women years and years ago. Is that your main problem with it?

Palin: It would have turned into a boon for trial lawyers. Again, thankfully with the existing laws we have on the books, they better be enforced. We won't stand for anything but that. We won't stand for any discrimination in the workplace - that there isn't any discrimination in America.

At first blush, it looks like Palin is just rehashing McCain’s argument against Ledbetter: “I don’t believe that this would do anything to help women except maybe help trial lawyers and others in that profession.”  She does manage to eke out the lawyer-bashing McCain line, while asserting that McCain-Palin “won’t stand” for discrimination, but after that she appears to get a little lost.  She seems to think that the “fear of lawsuits” Couric refers to in the second question are people suing women to prevent them from enforcing “the laws on the books.”

But a closer look reveals an even more fundamental misunderstanding.  She says that “thankfully, we have the laws on the books."  Well, yes, but thanks to Samuel Alito, that law means a lot less than it used to.

Ledbetter v. Goodyear, the Supreme Court decision that led to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, involved a woman, Lilly Ledbetter, who worked at a Goodyear Tire plant for almost twenty years, for a salary much less than her male co-workers.  The “laws on the books,” as read by Justice Alito and the rest of his voting bloc, said that Ledbetter’s discrimination claim needed to be filed within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck.  The only problem: Ledbetter first found out about the unequal pay through an anonymous tip, sixteen years after that first paycheck.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Palin doesn’t know the substance of the Ledbetter case—apparently, when asked to name Supreme Court cases, the only one she could produce was Roe v. Wade.

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Don’t Worry, Sarah. We’ll tell you about the Court!

In an interview with Katie Couric, it appears as if Sarah Palin was unable to name a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade.

The Palin aide, after first noting how "infuriating" it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.

I like to think that if prompted, she could tell us what Brown v. Board of Education accomplished, but I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.

Anyway, Sarah, allow us to tell you about one or two cases that your own running mate has had a hand in bringing about.  Thanks to the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, you can use any of these cases to talk about how the Court affects ordinary Americans.

  • Ledbetter v. Goodyear – Makes it harder for women to sue when they’ve been discriminated against.
  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 – Makes it harder to desegregate schools.
  • Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation – Makes it harder for to preserve the wall between church and state.
  • Garcetti v. Ceballos – Makes it harder for students to exercise free speech.
  • Gonzales v. Carhart – Makes it harder for women to get abortion procedures they need.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!  Thanks to your running mate, there are all sorts of terrible, terrible Supreme Court decisions that limit our rights and freedoms.  Better get studyin’.

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A Victory for Voting Rights in Ohio

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a week-long window during which new voters can register and vote via absentee ballot on the same day. (

Another federal court decision was expected later in the day over the early voting window, which begins Tuesday and has become a partisan battle in a swing state where President Bush narrowly clinched re-election in 2004.

In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court said Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner was correct in ruling that voters don't need to be registered for at least 30 days before receiving an absentee ballot.

Republicans, who claimed that Brunner was misinterpreting the law to benefit her party, had backed lawsuits filed against the measure.

The decision is a real victory for voting rights and another acknowledgement that government should encourage people to vote, not make it more difficult for them to do so.  And, of course, it will likely help increase turnout in Ohio, one of the crucial states this November.

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Double Talk Express: McCain and Fair Pay

At a town hall meeting last week, John McCain appeared to pledge in earnest to fight discrimination and, if necessary, take offenders to court:

But it was McCain who sided with corporate lobbyists earlier this year and opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Why, you might ask? He claimed “it would lead to more lawsuits.”

Later, at a different town hall meeting, he told a 14-year-old girl that the Fair Pay Act wouldn’t help anyone but “trial lawyers and others in that profession.”

What’s worse, McCain has helped confirm hundreds of right-wing federal judges to the very courts that he claims he would use to fight discrimination. The problem is, those judges – including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – have consistently whittled away at Americans’ protections against discrimination. And they’ve made it increasingly difficult for those Americans’ who do suffer discrimination to win just compensation.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, for instance, was created to undo the damage done by the Supreme Court in the Ledbetter ruling, which made it easier for companies to get away with pay discrimination. McCain not only endorsed the ruling, but he has vowed to nominate more judges like the ruling’s author – Justice Samuel Alito.

If McCain wanted to try some real straight talk for a change, he’d simply tell the women of America that under a McCain administration, they’d be on their own.

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Don't Mourn, Organize!

If you're following the election news as closely as I am, you're probably finding a lot of reasons to holler at your TV. How about Todd Palin refusing a subpoena from the legislative committee investigating "Troopergate" in Alaska, and Sarah Palin ducking requests to testify with claims of "executive privilege" (sound familiar?) — haven't we had enough of executive branch officials insisting they're above the law? Or maybe for you it's the sight of the "get government out of the way" Republicans suddenly claiming that they're the ones to bring more effective government oversight to Wall Street. So much for free-market fundamentalism! Or maybe it's the implication by the McCain-Palin campaign with their "Country First" signs that anyone who does not support their ticket is not patriotic!

Another thing that is making me furious is that people may be kept from casting their vote. Our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has been documenting and mobilizing opposition to voter suppression efforts around the country — but conservative officials keep finding new ways to try to keep some voters away from the polls. In Michigan — a key presidential battleground state — the Republican Party is training people to challenge voters at the polls, and is even planning to try to deny voters the chance to cast a ballot if their home has gone into foreclosure. It's disgusting, but it's only part of a much bigger picture -- we're seeing official efforts in other key states like Virginia, Ohio and Florida to find reasons to knock people off the voting rolls.

Whatever is driving you to distraction this week, keep in mind labor organizer Joe Hill's famous admonition: "Don't mourn, organize!"

There's a huge amount of exciting organizing People For and other progressive groups are doing right now — and a lot of ways for you to get involved in these last few weeks before the election.

First and foremost you should VOTE and take at least five friends to the polls with you. If your state lets you vote early, do it. But don't stop there. Here are three other things you can do to keep the White House and Supreme Court out of the hands of the radical Religious Right:

  1. Get your ringside seats on October 2 when "Amtrak Joe" debates "Mooseburger Sarah"... Host a People For vice presidential debate watch party with your friends. We have been documenting Sarah Palin's record of extremism, and we're going to keep it up — we'll help you host a great party and send people off with new ammunition for their conversations with friends and family. Sign up at http://site.pfaw.org/parties.

  2. Volunteer some of your time to a progressive campaign during the next six weeks. Campaigns need help with voter identification and turnout, and in a close election year, this kind of ground work is vitally important -- and it's a fun way to get to know others in your community who share your political passions. Soon we will have a complete list of the candidates who are endorsed by the People For the American Way Voters Alliance. Click here to affirm your membership with People For in one simple step so we can share those endorsements with you.

  3. Be on the front lines to protect voting rights and democracy. We can help you find a way to volunteer in key states on or before Election Day. Sign up here!  

Let's make sure that on November 5, we're tired but elated!

P.S.  Are you doing something new this election year that you've never done before? Do you have a creative idea for energizing people to take action? Let me know and we'll share some of your stories. You could inspire someone else to take the next step — and you could help turn the tide! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

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Bad Medicine

Legal terms are often so dry that it's hard to get excited about them.  After all, who could possibly be affected by something as abstract as "preemption?"

From the Times:

In the spring of 2000, suffering from a migraine, Ms. Levine visited a clinic near here for a treatment she had received many times: Demerol for the pain and Wyeth’s drug Phenergan for nausea.

“Nothing wrong with either drug,” Ms. Levine said. “They’re both safe when given the right way.”

But if Phenergan is exposed to arterial blood, it causes swift and irreversible gangrene.

You can imagine how this story ends.  Diane Levine, a musician, lost her arm because of improperly administered medication (which didn't give appropriate warning on the lable), and now the pharmacutical company insists that she's not allowed to sue under state law.

Now the case is coming to the Supreme Court, which hasn't been a particularly good friend to people like Ms. Levine these last few years.

This is a perfect example of the up-is-down, black-is-white argument that the right has been making (and winning) in courts: that the FDA should protect pharmacutical companies, not individual Americans, when something goes horribly wrong.

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Fair Pay Issue Growing in Campaign ‘08

As you may have seen, the Obama campaign is running ads focusing on McCain’s opposition to fair pay for women.  I think it’s safe to say that everyone around here is glad to see Obama talking about the issue and eager to see McCain’s response.

But looking at the conversation, it’s important to remember that we aren’t moving forward on this issue.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, we’re actually moving backwards.  It was, after all, the very bad decision to take away Lilly Ledbetter’s fair pay that brought pay discrimination to the fore.  And regardless of whether or not we manage to pass the Fair Pay Act, more bad Supreme Court Justices could make the situation much, much worse.

Our friends at the National Organization of Women have put together a great fact sheet on Equal Pay which is fascinating and disturbing at the same time.  (Via Dana Goldstien at TAPPED)

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Have They No Shame?

In an election in which so much is at stake, and so many crucial differences between the presidential tickets, our national conversation keeps getting stuck — and not by accident. It dawned on me this week that race and gender are the elephant (and donkey) in the room — they’re more often exploited in subtle and cynical ways than discussed honestly. You need only witness the side show about "lipstick" that Republicans are using to keep the campaign away from issues that affect Americans and our shared future.

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Cheer Up, Gary Bauer

Gary Bauer is all gloom and doom about the prospect of Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justices.

“[I]f the next two or three Supreme Court appointments are appointments made by Barack Obama, confirmed by a Democratic Senate...' -- my friends, the things we have been fighting for 30 years will not only be lost, they may, in fact, be lost permanently," Bauer contends.

But cheer up, Gary! Most Court-watchers speculate that the next few openings on the Court will come from the moderate/progressive wing of the Supreme Court.

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Voting Rights Opponent Appeals to Supreme Court

 As expected, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (NAMUDNO), a public utility district in Travis County, Tex., filed a direct appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court from a unanimous ruling last May by a three-judge federal district court rejecting NAMUDNO's claims that it is exempt from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and, in the alternative, that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

People For and a number of other parties intervened as defendants in the district court in order to help defend the constitutionality of Section 5. Section 5 of the VRA requires all or part of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have their voting procedures pre-approved, or "pre-cleared," by the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal district court in Washington before they can be changed.

For more information, view People For's statement on the district court ruling. You can also view the district court's ruling here.

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