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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Choice-- You Be the Judge!
John Dean has written an insider's book that chronicles President Richard Nixon's appointment of William Rehnquist to the United States Supreme Court. It was without doubt a Presidency filled with history, and the appointment of William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court is an often forgotten part of that Presidency. The book is well researched and throughly documented with...
Published on June 30, 2002 by James E. Carroll

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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful subject; flawed author
With the recent debacles that seem to have dominated recent American political history, the general public has finally become aware of the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court. As opposed to the U.S. Congress or the President, members of the court are appointed for life. They do not have to face reelection nor do they have a set date for retirement. In short, there's...
Published on November 23, 2001 by Jeffrey Ellis


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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Choice-- You Be the Judge!, June 30, 2002
By 
James E. Carroll (Cape Cod, Massachusetts, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court (Hardcover)
John Dean has written an insider's book that chronicles President Richard Nixon's appointment of William Rehnquist to the United States Supreme Court. It was without doubt a Presidency filled with history, and the appointment of William Rehnquist to the Supreme Court is an often forgotten part of that Presidency. The book is well researched and throughly documented with first hand material from the National Archives, including several verbatim passages transcribed from the infamous White House tapes that otherwise doomed the Nixon Presidency.
Dean brings us inside the "vetting" process used by the White House staff and Justice Department to select nominees to the Court. Dean floated the name of Rehnquist to several in the administration, including then Attorney General John Mitchell, as a possible conservative candidate for the Court as Dean had worked with Rehnquist in the Justice Department and learned of the Rehnquist's strict constructionist interpretation of the constitution. What was fascinating was that Rehnquist while toiling away at the Justice Department was tasked with "vetting' the other possible Court nominees chosen by the White House. Sounds much like the recent scenario of the selection of Dick Cheney as Vice President.
The book details the other nominees Rehnquist beat out for the coveted position. If anyone believes that politics plays no part in the selection of the members of the Court, then this is required reading. At times humorous and at times self-serving, this book is well worth the purchase. If you are not a Court watcher don't worry, you don't have to be to appreciate this book. Dean is a good writer and the text flows easily. Add "The Rehnquist Choice" to your summer reading list - you will gain an appreciation of the importance of Presidential nominations to the Court.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nixonology at its Best, October 30, 2001
By 
Kim I. Eisler (Bethesda, Maryland United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court (Hardcover)
Every time I think about John Dean sitting in the National Archives listening to his own voice on the presidential tapes, I think how surreal that must have been for the other researchers at the adjacent study carrels. How odd for a man to be able to hear his own voice, 29 years later, occasionally exclaiming: "I said that?" This is a wonderful look at Nixon with some of the funniest anecdotes you'll every come across. John Dean has a real ear for irony and a smooth writing style that will surprise people who know he is a lawyer but didn't come across his talent in the excellent Blind Ambition. There are a couple of points worth making. One is that even though President Nixon weighed political considerations for every move he mad, he seemed to genuinely relish the opportunity to appoint a qualified person from the top of his class at Stanford. If there is a disconnect in this book, it is that Dean makes Rehnquist out to be a much worse person than he is. The Chief Justice is not a bad man and Dean need not feel so guilty about being the first person to raise his name. Skip the moralizing at the end of the book and concentrate on a true story of how a justice was picked and you will laugh until you cry. Some might say it makes them cry, it shouldn't . Its just politics.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Insider's Look at the Bungling Behind a Historic Choice, March 3, 2003
By 
Allan Heydon (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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During his first presidential term, Richard Nixon had the unusual opportunity to appoint four justices to the supreme court. This book tells the inside story of how the nominees were selected, focusing almost entirely on the selection of the latter two: Lewis Powell, a prominent Virginia attorney, and William Rehnquist, then the Assistant Attorney General to John Mitchell. Not counting the book's introduction and afterword, its main story covers just 35 days in the fall of 1971.
The book begins by telling how Nixon virtually created the first two vacancies. Essentially, Nixon encouraged Senate republicans to fillibuster the elevation of Abe Fortas to the Chief Justice position. Once in office, Nixon's men then staged a PR campaign to discredit Fortas, causing him to announce his retirement. Ironically, the legal precedent for investigating Fortas' business dealings was based on a memo written by Rehnquist.
If anyone should be entitled to write this story, it is John Dean. At the time, Dean was Council to the President, and it was he that first brought up Rehnquist's name, mostly as a fanciful suggestion. He recounts his experiences vetting candidates and some of his conversations as reconstructed from notes and memory. Primarily, however, the book is based on Nixon's tape recorded conversations in the oval office. Dean has done a good job editing these transcripts so as to maintain sufficient context without dragging them out too long.
What emerges in these conversations is a series of bungled operations and imprudent decisions. Before Lewis and Rehnquist were finally selected in the final two days before their names were announced, the administration actually selected four other candidates. Two were rejected by the Senate, and the other two (including a woman) were deemed unqualified by the ABA (although from the sounds of it, the female candidate, Mildred Lillie, was fairly qualified but discriminated against by the all-male panel). John Mitchell and his assistant Rehnquist did an abysmal job vetting candidates, so much so that Dean and another lawyer were sent by John Ehrlichman to independently interview the candidates in more depth. And Nixon himself seemed to base his choices on hearsay and surface biographical snippets, like the candidates' class rank or the school they graduated from. He paid very little attention to the candidates' actual writings or opinions.
One of the incidental but nevertheless shocking revelations in the book is the deep extent of Nixon's sexism. Recent tapes have revealed his racism and anti-semitism, but his low opinion of women is repeated time and again in the transcripts. For example he is quoted as saying "I don't even think women should be educated!" and "I don't think a woman should be in any government job whatever."
In the book's afterword, Dean makes a compelling case that Rehnquist lied under oath during his confirmation hearings, both when he was initially confirmed in 1971, and then again in 1986 when Reagan nominated him to Chief Justice. At issue were Rehnquist's activities in Arizona during the 1960's preventing minorities from voting, and a controversial memo he wrote while clerking for Justice Robert Jackson in which he urged Jackson to vote to maintain segregated schools in the historic "Brown vs. Board of Education" case. Dean argues that if Rehnquist had been better vetted and prepared for his initial confirmation hearings, he would have had ready answers to these questions. Instead, he was caught off guard and ended up lying in 1971, and then lying again in 1986 to maintain the original lies.
Due to Rehnquist's dishonesty and the profound effect of his rulings on the high court, Dean openly regrets ever having suggested Rehnquist's name to Nixon staffers. Although this fascinating book is about far more than just Nixon's selection of Rehnquist, clearly that selection was the most important from a historical perspective. In a sense, this book is Dean's act of repentance for his role in the Rehnquist choice.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Politics, Happenstance, and William Rehnquist, October 17, 2001
This review is from: The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court (Hardcover)
Only in the last couple of years have all the tapes of Nixon's many conversations as President in the White House been released. The tragedy of Richard Nixon is that every time someone wants to think well of him, tapes or something else surfaces that shows his real unpleasant, dark, and unsavory character.
John Dean waited for the release of these tapes and along with his personal recollections during the time period has written a book that deals with the selection of Rehnquist and Lewis Powell as United States Supreme Court Justices. Its not pleasant reading for those naive enough to believe that Presidents seek out the most qualified people for appointments. Rather, the book exposes the process used by President Nixon to select two supreme court justices as frought with politics, bigotry, and regionalism. Nixon's bigotry about Jews, prejudice against easterners, and nasty language make this a book that someone who is very sensitive should not read.
The real shocker here is that before picking Powell who was a superbly qualified justice, Nixon first selected two candidates who could not even win acceptance as "qualified" for the Supreme Court by the American Bar Association Committee on the Federal Judiciary. Nixon stubbornly tried to get these individuals appointed until it became absolutely clear it was hopeless. Only at this point, did a real candidate like Powell get nominated. Nixon further abused the process by sending names to the ABA of other people he knew would never win approval.
Rehnquist had good paper qualifications to sit on the Supreme Court. However, it was known early on he was extremely conservative. He may have lied about statements he allegedly made expressing approval of racial segregation in schools. Dean presents the case for this. Its up to the reader to judge.
In the end, we are left gasping at the twisted and bizarre process which put Rehnquist on the Supreme Court. Even those who support Rehnquist and other conservative justices should wish for a better process to select judges. Hopefully, one day we shall see such a process and never see another President like Nixon again.
Mark
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20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful subject; flawed author, November 23, 2001
By 
Jeffrey Ellis "bored recluse" (Richardson, Texas United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court (Hardcover)
With the recent debacles that seem to have dominated recent American political history, the general public has finally become aware of the importance of the U.S. Supreme Court. As opposed to the U.S. Congress or the President, members of the court are appointed for life. They do not have to face reelection nor do they have a set date for retirement. In short, there's probably no presidential appointment that carries more importance than who the president names (and the Senate confirms) to the Supreme Court. One bad nomination (as history has shown time and again) can have a deterimental effect on U.S. policy for decades to come. However, despite its power, the Court has always had a somewhat stuffy, unsexy image. It usually doesn't make for fun reading and for too long, the process that goes into selecting the men and women who populate our highest court has been ignored. For this reason alone, John Dean's The Rehnquist Choice is a long overdue book.
At the title implies, the Rehnquist Choice follows the long course of strategizing that led to the appointment, by Richard Nixon, of William Rehnquist. With his recent prominence following both the impeachment trials and the election debacle, its easy to forget that Rehnquist was seemingly plucked from obscurity. In one of the book's more amusing revelations, we discover that Nixon himself was often unsure of the correct pronunciation of the man he appointed to the highest court in the land. Dean, who was an aide to Nixon, was one of the few members of the administration to lobby for the appointment of Rehnquist and, as he opaquely acknowledges, his lobbying was more of a case of his own need to display power than anything else. Nixon, meanwhile, is shown as he considers a wide range of surprising names before settling on Rehnquist. Indeed, part of the book's fun comes from imagining the possibilities of some of the men that Nixon considered. Nixon, as always a fascinating character who comes across as half-genius and half-child, is especially entertaining as he seriously speculates on naming U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, a former Klan members who has never actually practiced law, just to annoy Democrats in Congress. Its an interesting inside look and also a sad look at how political concerns trivialize the entire appointment and confirmation process. There's something definitely disturbing about how one of the most powerful men in the country got his job mostly because of the petty egos of Nixon and the members of his dysfunctional staff.
If there is a problem with this insightful record, it is with the author himself. After working in obscurity, Dean came to prominence as one of the youngest (and the quickest to betray his boss) of the president's men. Ever since the Watergate ordeal, Dean's been trying to justify his place and role in the Nixon administration. Basically, in this book and others, Dean's overriding theme seems to be "Everyone in the Nixon White House was bad except for me." Unfortunately, especially towards the end of the book, Dean seems to sacrifice the book's insider details in order to make himself look better. Too much of the book is full of him assuring us that he feels very guilty for having engineered the appointment and confirmation of the man who, in the eyes of many, elected a Republican to the White House in 2000. Regardless of your politics, its hard not to wish that Dean would stop promoting his own sainthood and instead concentrate on the insider details that makes the rest of this book such a wonderful document.
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Confirms Confirmation, October 4, 2001
By 
wildbill (Tacoma, WA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court (Hardcover)
John Dean has written a readable retelling of the appointment politics surrounding William Rehnquist, then Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court and since 1986 Chief Justice of the United States. Those who have read about the Court avidly or extensively will not find much here that is new, but that tends to validate what Dean says. Those who knew little about President Nixon or the politics of appointments in the Nixon Era will find more than a few fascinating stories.
Mr. Dean was a lawyer working in the White House. Thus, he was privy to many of the machinations of the Nixon Administration. If Mr. Dean is liable to be suspected of repenting or exaggerating his role, he may be at least presumed to be an authority.
One of Mr. Dean's overarching points is that Mr. Rehnquist was appointed to the Court nearly accidentally. The naive reader will be startled to see how little thought went into the selection, how late in the process that thought came about, and how few second thoughts were lavished on the selection once it was made.
In addition, the reader will be amused by the cavalier banter that passed for analysis between Nixon and his various sounding boards. Dean has reproduced dialogue from the White House tapes, so the quotations appear to be authoritative.
The "might have beens" are too delicious to spoil in this review. Dean deftly introduces each possibility with a capsule description so that readers who did not pay much attention in 1971 may appreciate who was who.
No one should be surprised to read that Nixon was prejudiced against blacks, Jews, and women, but the vehemence with which Nixon spews stereotypes startles even thirty years later.
Dean concludes that Rehnquist, in 1971 and 1986, fibbed his way thorough difficulties. The splendid irony that the fellow who presided over Clinton's trial in the Senate in 1999 had perjured himself onto the Court and into the Chief Justiceship is hardly news. To believe Rehnquist's denials concerning challenging minority voters in Arizona in the 1960s or concerning his memorandum urging the justices to uphold "separate but equal" as good law required muscular denial. [Dean does not raise the matter of the restrictive covenant on Rehnquist's property.] Those familiar with these issues will find very little new. However, those new to the matter will find in the "Afterword" a concise but articulate discussion of why Rehnquist's denials were unbelievable.
What readers may not gather from Dean's prose, however, is that, in a roundabout way, the system worked. Stymied by the American Bar Association [which found Nixon's first few candidates to be unqualified or unimpressive] and stung by mass media attacks on Nixon's attempts to appoint mediocrities, Nixon felt compelled to go for a little stature with predictable ideology. Rehnquist was a predictable conservative. He was also many cuts above the sorts of people with whom Nixon wanted to saddle the Court.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good history, bad politics, October 10, 2001
By 
Jared J. Nelson (Edwardsville, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court (Hardcover)
John Dean was the man partly responsible for putting William Rehnquist's name in contention leading Nixon to nominate him, who decided on Rehnquist only hours before he announced his nominees for two positions on the Court. As a history, the first twelve chapters of the book are an interesting look at how Nixon went through his list of nominees (many of which were frightfully unqualified). Though toward the end, the book gets a little redundant with similar conversations being transcribed, just with different people. Other than the length, the twelve chapters dealing with the decision-making process are a good dispassionate history.
The afterward (about the Senate hearings), however, seem a little unfair. John Dean (as well as Rick Perlstein in Before the Storm) has leveled a charge that Rehnquist `harassed voters' in Arizona in 1968 at the election polls. `Harassing voters,' or checking their eligibility by making sure that they were in fact registered to vote and that they were not voting under someone else's name, is not exactly an illegal practice and is in fact a common party tactic that still remains today in both parties. You can hardly blame Nixon officials for wanting to be sure the game was being played fair especially after Nixon's experience in 1960 with massive voter fraud in Illinois and Texas. Dean also implies that Rehnquist is racist, because he presented a defense for the Plessy v. Ferguson decision in 1953 and thought that the 1964 Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional at the time (as did Senators Barry Goldwater and Al Gore, Sr., who both later regretted voting against it), and implied Rehnquist was an extremist because Rehnquist seemed to question the Miranda decision. This is unfair because it doesn't acknowledge room for intellectual growth that a person inevitably undergoes, and as Rehnquist has obviously shown, if indeed he did question them, in decisions on the Court upholding Brown v. Board of Education decision and Miranda in his rulings as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In short, if you are looking at the first 12 chapters, the book deserves 4 and a half stars, but the somewhat intellectually dishonest afterword spoils an otherwise interesting book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting history, but Dean too close to be objective, January 11, 2011
By 
John W. Dean's The Rehnquist Choice: The Untold Story of the Nixon Appointment That Redefined the Supreme Court is a fascinating firsthand account of the politics of judicial nominations. The book is rich in the back-and-forth of internal White House deliberations about the candidates, with a level of candor we're unlikely ever to see again. Some of the most interesting parts of the book didn't concern Rehnquist at all. I was surprised to learn that Nixon almost appointed the first female justice a decade before O'Connor! On that front, this book is well research and insightful.

However, one gets the sense that Dean - who seems to have built his career around atoning for his years with Nixon - is too close to the issue to be objective. After all, he was the person to have initially nominated Rehnquist, so he claims. Despite this - or perhaps because of this - Dean is very harsh on Rehnquist, both as a political operator and as a person. Sometimes Dean goes too far in his allegations. He blasts Rehnquist for investigating legal sanctions against Supreme Court Justice Fortas on the "assumption" that he was guilty, yet lawyer often conduct legal research assuming certain facts or "in the alternative." Some of Dean's charges against Rehnquist's conduct during the nominations and fudging his earlier support for Plessy v. Ferguson are on better footing.

Still, Dean is never really honest with readers about why he proposed Rehnquist - not once, but on several occasions - if he thinks the latter is such a horrible person. Dean claims it was something of a game, to see if he could do it. If that's all it was, that's horribly superficial. Yet, that excuse sounds specious. That's a shame because it obscures the historical record in an otherwise revealing book.

A note on the audiobook version: This is how you do an audiobook! The general narration is done well, but for important parts John Dean himself takes over and talks in the first person. What a treat! Moreover, the audiobook actually plays relevant portions of the Nixon tapes. It's eerie hearing Tricky Dick talking about how women shouldn't be educated! If you have to choose between the paperback or audio version, definitely go for the latter.
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5.0 out of 5 stars How William Rehnquist Was Selected for the Supreme Court, January 26, 2007
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This is either a fascinating or frightening account, depending on your viewpoint, of how in 1971 William Rehnquist was chosen to be nominated by Richard Nixon to the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice. The author was, of course, counsel to the President at the time and intimately involved in the process. Dean has drawn on his own recollections and notes, as well as having made excellent use of those infamous Nixon tapes which captured many of the key conversations involved in the mechanics of selection. Nixon was determined to re-shape the Court, but had been frustrated with his prior nominations of Haynesworth and Carswell. Dean argues that Nixon (with the aid of Rehnquist who was an Assistant Attorney General at the time) tried to create openings by encouraging a Douglas impeachment and the resignation of Fortas. When it became evident that Justices Black and Harlan, due to illness, would soon be leaving the Court, the "process" (if you want to call it that) began.

Approximately 38 individuals were under consideration at some point, including Agnew, Bickel, Senator Byrd, Arlen Specter, Howard Baker, and Caspar Weinberger to name just a few. Dean devotes most attention to Representative Richard Poff, Judge Mildred L. Lillie, Herschel Friday, and Senator Byrd and how they were considered. Throughout the process, Rehnquist's name is mentioned by various folks, but he is never really in the running. The process swerves on erratically, names drop off, new names are added, and Nixon's frustration with leaks and the American Bar Association explodes. In the end, Nixon backtracks and offers one slot to Lewis Powell, who had been cut earlier due to his age, and is close to offering the second to Howard Baker. But Baker, as Dean terms it, "dithers" and wants more time and suddenly in a key almost off-hand discussion between Nixon and Richard Moore, his Special Counsel, Rehnquist's name pops up again, and Nixon learns for the first time that he had been second in his class at Stanford and had clerked for Justice Jackson. Suddenly the sun peeks thorough the clouds and Nixon decides Rehnquist (who he has never really known) is his man. The nomination goes forward, but Rehnquist had idea what was up when "the call" came out of the blue, only having his first private chat with Nixon months after the nomination.

Dean adds some intersting discussion of both of Rehnquist's hearings (including his later one for Chief Justice), and reviews the issue of whether there were smoking guns in his background as to which he misled the Senate. The book contains a chronology, helpful notes, and a nice bibliography. An essential book for anyone interested in Rehnquist and that most inexplicable of all Presidents.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Overlooked Gem on an Important Topic, October 31, 2006
By 
Richard L. Goldfarb (Seattle, WA United States) - See all my reviews
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With meticulous attention to detail, John Dean gives the reader an unparalleled insider's view of one of the most momentous decisions in American history, Richard Nixon's appointment of William H. Rehnquist, Jr. to the U.S. Supreme Court. Using transcripts of the tapes Nixon left behind when he fled the White House in disgrace, plus additional source material from the National Archives and his own excellent memory (remember, this is the man whose sworn recollections of conversations about Watergate BEFORE the tapes were produced were never questioned after the tapes came out), Dean lets us see how bumbling, how innocent and how political a process this important decision actually was.

Dean starts the book with the background of the plot to derail Abe Fortas's nomination as Chief Justice before Nixon is even elected, and exposes it for its political and unfair nature. He then provides additional background on the nomination of Warren Burger as Chief Justice, the unsuccessful nominations of Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, and the ultimate confirmation of Harry Blackmun to Fortas's seat.

With no internet, no Fox News, no right wing think tanks, no computers, the process of finding and then vetting Supreme Court justices was primitive. Nixon spent all his time on individuals never nominated, and worked hard to vet them, only to have them all be unnominatable. Not having learned by having two nominees turned down, Nixon's decision to appoint Rehnquist was made on the spur of the moment. Yet, in important ways, it was the most longlasting part of his legacy, reaching directly to just a year ago and through the legacy of Rehnquist's jurisprudence, perhaps forever.

The Nixon we see here is bare naked to the reader. He hates Jews, demeans women, has few goals other than the political. He is a man paranoid of leaks and very much in charge of his White House and his own decisionmaking. He has no patience for civil rights, busing or the rights of the accused; he would be willing to appoint a Robert Byrd to the court just to spite a Democratic Senate that would be unable to turn down one of its own. He seeks to embarrass the American Bar Association (even while ending up appointing its former President, Lewis Powell, at the same time as Rehnquist).

Dean clearly dislikes Rehnquist, and of course by this time hates Nixon and all his coterie, but the book nonetheless, by its very use of Nixon's own words, presents the man in all his complexity and his kind of genius.
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