Death Penalty

Justice Department Prepares for First Federal Execution of a Woman Since 1953

Lisa Montgomery killed a pregnant woman and took her baby in 2004. She is clearly mentally unwell. What does killing her accomplish?

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It has been nearly 70 years since the federal Bureau of Prisons executed a woman. That will change in December if Attorney General William Barr gets his way.

The Department of Justice announced Friday that Lisa Marie Montgomery, 52, will be executed via lethal injection on December 8. Montgomery was convicted in 2007 of choking a pregnant woman to death in 2004, then cutting the baby out of the victim's body so she could pass it off as her own.

Montgomery traveled from Kansas to Missouri and kidnapped the victim, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, making the murder a federal crime. A jury unanimously recommended a death sentence.

Until this year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons' death chamber had been silent, with no federal executions since 2003. But last year Barr announced that he was reinitiating protocols and resuming executions. These executions began in July, with three prisoners dying over the course of a single week.

So far, Barr's Justice Department has had seven inmates executed, all of them male. Two other men have been scheduled for execution (one in November and one in December). This administration has set a modern record for federal executions.

If the Bureau of Prisons follows through with Montgomery, she'll be the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953. Bonnie Brown Heady was put to death in December 1953, as was her partner in crime, Carl Austin Hall, for kidnapping and murdering a 6-year-old boy they had taken for ransom. Heady's execution came on the heels of the much more famous execution of Ethel Rosenberg, electrocuted in June (along with her husband, Julius) for spying and leaking American military secrets to the Soviet Union.

The descriptions of Montgomery's crimes are brutal, as has been the case for pretty much all of the men executed as well. The circumstances of Montgomery's crimes also show what experts have stated was serious mental illness. According to her family and attorneys, Montgomery was a victim of severe abuse, raped repeatedly by her stepfather while she was a teen, and subjected to physical violence that might have left her brain damaged. She also had a history of claiming to be pregnant when she was not. (She had tubal ligation surgery in 1990 and could not get pregnant.) A lot of this family information was not provided to the jury during her sentencing phase; her appeals team uncovered it after her sentencing.

While Montgomery's background is no excuse for murder, it should raise some red flags. There is little deterrence in executing an inmate whose murder motives are bizarre and clearly a sign of mental illness. Killing Montgomery does not make the United States any more safe or just than simply leaving her in federal prison to live out the remainder of her life.

If the Department of Justice succeeds in completing all of its executions planned out for the end of the year, Trump over the course of just six months will have tied the number of federal executions—10—carried out under President Harry S. Truman across his two terms. President Franklin D. Roosevelt will still have Trump beat by six.

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  1. insert here standard objection to state-sponsored killing.

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      2. I don’t care.

    2. Scott Shackford is a supporter of State police powers, he just prioritizes it to achieve political dominance.
      He absolutely does not object to state sponsored killing of people who wrongthink.

      1. So….murdering a woman and cutting a baby from her womb is “wrong think” to you?
        Interesting world you live in.

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        2. Clump of cells

        3. So….executing her will deter other mentally ill women from murdering a woman and cutting a baby from her womb? Even more interesting world you live in.

    3. Blah, blah, think of the children, blah, blah.
      /devils advocate.

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  3. Montgomery traveled from Kansas to Missouri and kidnapped the victim, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, making the murder a federal crime.
    Bobbie Jo Stinnett was murdered in her home. Montgomery and the abducted baby crossed state lines. The murder should be a state crime.
    Killing Montgomery does not make the United States any more safe or just than simply leaving her in federal prison to live out the remainder of her life.
    Agree.

    1. Missouri has carried out 90 executions since 1976. What makes you think she would have faired better under state law than under federal law?

      1. It isn’t an argument for result. The murder took place in Missouri. It shouldn’t become a federal crime because the murderer traveled from another state.

        1. Blame it on the Lindberg baby murder, and subsequent railroading of richard hauptmann. This was the federal law upon which she is convicted.

  4. “What does killing her accomplish?”

    One less crazy bitch.

    1. There is that. Perhaps the more salient question is, “What does keeping her alive accomplish?”.

      1. The Declaration of Independence states that everyone has a right to “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

        1. Commit murder and you forfeit that right.

    2. One we do not need to pay for once gone.

      I presume Reason thinks she can be reformed. This is not a case where there is any doubt about what she did.

  5. While there are lots of good arguments against the death penalty, the gender of the person to be executed is not among them. Women are just as capable of horrific crimes as men. Men are just as susceptible to childhood abuse and mental illness as women.

    1. I think this has more to do with there being far fewer women who commit brutal murders than men.

      1. That explains the statistical discrepancy in executions. That does not explain why Shackford thought it relevant to write about.

    2. “Women are just as capable of horrific crimes as men.”

      No, they’re not, but it happens occasionally.

      1. I don’t understand what you are trying to say. If it happens occasionally, then obviously they are as capable, just not as likely.

  6. Equality of outcomes? She shouldn’t receive a lighter sentence than her male equivalent would.

  7. “Before dog breeder Bobbie Jo Stinnett was murdered at the age of 23, she had been looking forward to welcoming the birth of her first baby.

    She and Victoria Jo’s smitten dad, Zeb Stinnett, were childhood sweethearts.

    A New York Post story in January 2005 explains that the couple had been dreaming of trading their small rental cottage for a new home to raise their child.

    But their hopes were horrifically crushed when twisted killer Lisa Montgomery fatally strangled Bobbie Jo Stinnett, cut open her body, and kidnapped their baby.

    In December 2004, as part of a premeditated murder-kidnap scheme, Montgomery drove from her home in Kansas to Bobbie Jo’s home in Missouri, purportedly to purchase a puppy.

    Montgomery – who was pretending to be pregnant – had contacted Bobbie Jo about her rat terriers being sold on the internet.

    Once inside her victim’s home, Montgomery attacked and strangled Stinnett – who was eight months pregnant – until the mom-to-be lost consciousness.

    Using a kitchen knife, Montgomery then cut into Stinnett’s abdomen, causing her to regain consciousness.

    A struggle ensued, and Montgomery strangled Stinnett to death.

    Montgomery then removed the baby from Stinnett’s body, kidnapped the infant, and tried to pass her off as her own to family and friends.”

    I suppose those who are just opposed to death penalty will be against her execution regardless; but I think it matters to consider the facts of a case in any event.

    1. Yeah, that is very horrible and very pre-meditated.

      I generally oppose the death penalty, but this isn’t a case to generate sympathy with.

    2. You gonna pull the trigger?

      1. Cycle the bolt and pull it again if need be.

        1. you I wasn’t concerned about lol. the sad story above is the same tactic used to separate us from our dollars through taxation.

          1. “You gonna pull the trigger?”

            Do they take volunteers for that duty?

            As for a “sad story” that is somehow similar to taxation schemes, a simple copy and paste from an article summing up the events. Perhaps some crimes are so heinous that they warrant capital punishment.

            1. >>Perhaps some crimes are so heinous that they warrant capital punishment.

              dude, I’m with you if you’re on the volunteer list. we want to do it as a society, cool beans. passing it off on government or whatever institution to do it for us is my beef.

              1. Huh? Doing it “as a society” means government in some form doing it. Maybe it should be the State of Missouri, rather than the Federal government, doing it. I don’t know if Missouri has the death penalty. But I certainly don’t want private parties doing the killing, and I hope you don’t either.

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                2. above are posts about forfeited rights including one’s right to life. I would prefer a literal-democratic effort to end another’s right to life, not a representative-democratic effort.

                  representative-democratic got us Roe.

          2. Speaking of taxation:

            “According to federal data the average annual cost per prisoner in federal prisons is about $115,000. Higher security levels are more expensive. Costs for women prisoners are much higher.” Aug 23, 2018

            1. This is one of many objections I have to the death penalty.

              It costs more to house an inmate on death row for a handful of years than to let them rot for life in general population.

              It’s a waste of money along with being a very questionable activity for the state considering the non-zero chance they got it wrong.

          3. “the sad story above is the same tactic ”

            You’re usually pretty good, but you fumbled here. Stripping all manipulative emotion from the story, and lookkng at it straight facts, this lady cut a fetus out of a mother. That at least isn’t a tactic.

            1. yes maybe I was over-generalizing.

            2. is the “pass it off on someone else to [steal from me to give to someone else] [kill in my name] gig”

      2. I’d pay for the privilege, and consider it my good deed for the year.

        -jcr

        1. as I said right above, totally fine by me.

    3. If true, all those facts are horrific. Now consider whether you think government bureaucrats of the same quality that run the Post Office and the IRS are competent to reliably determine that those facts actually are true. Given the history of mental illness, do you think those bureaucrats are able to tell the difference between an actual admission of guilt and a false confession? Is their reliability high enough that you are willing to accept responsibility when their inevitable mistakes result in the death of an innocent? Remember that in a judicial system as large as ours, even a mistake that only occurs once in 10,000 cases will still occur with regularity.

      The argument against the death penalty is not a defense of horrible monsters. It’s an admission of the fallibility of the humans that we put in charge of the judicial system. It’s an admission that no matter how clear you think the facts are in this case, you will be creating precedents and procedures that will be followed by rote in less clear cases.

      1. Isn’t that the reason we have juries?

        1. According to this article, the jury didn’t have all the information it might have wanted.

          1. Juries are not given the information they “want”. They are given only the evidence offered by counsel, if and only if the judge believes it tends to demonstrate a material fact. Her horrible upbringing is not a material fact.

            1. If she was raped and beaten, it absolutely is material.

              1. Being raped or beaten isn’t a license to murder an innocent person. If she’d killed someone who had attacked her, then it would be relevant.

                -jcr

            2. In death penalty hearings, info about the offender’s bad childhood is often ruled relevant – but it wasn’t offered in this case so the judge had no chance to decide on whether it was relevant.

      2. Bureaucrats didn’t. A jury of her peers who made it onto a death-qualified panel (not an easy feat, if you’ve ever seen voir dire in a death penalty case) did. Then a bunch of extraordinarily qualified federal judges upheld the convictions through appeals.

        1. A jury did make the decision – at the urging and based on the evidence of bureaucrats in the form of police and prosecutors. As evidenced in this site, police and prosecutors are more than capable of human error. Some cases almost as outrageous as the case above have been documented on these very pages. Maybe more outrageous since police are supposed to have a special duty to the rest of us.

          As the saying goes, a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. Getting a jury to convict on questionable evidence is a difference only in degree.

          And while, yes, the decision was upheld by judges, they also are fallible. Again, my point is not to defend monsters. It is to remind everyone of the fallibility of those we put in charge of deciding who will die no matter who they are.

          1. As the saying goes, a good prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

            Where do I sign up to murder ham sandwiches on behalf of the state?

      3. I think the 10000 ft view doesn’t work very well here.

  8. “Lisa Montgomery killed a pregnant woman and took her baby in 2004. She is clearly mentally unwell. What does killing her accomplish?”

    Gets one less person off the federal prison books and clears up about $100k a year.

    1. Find 100,000 or so more federal prisoners to execute and we might be talking about real money.

      1. My libertarian playbook says murdering a pregnant mother and cutting the baby from her womb is a violation of the NAP. It’s entirely silent about what’s supposed to happen afterwards.

        Given the above, there’s a considerable question about “Where’s the bottom?”. We shoot dozens if not hundreds of wild (and domesticated) animals that are far less deliberately murderous and equally irredeemable every year. If we can’t put someone like Montgomery to death, why aren’t we rehabbing Harambe? Should we expect a similar sort of article when it comes time to punch Dylan Roof’s ticket or are some murderous animals more equal than others?

        1. My libertarian playbook says murdering a pregnant mother and cutting the baby from her womb is a violation of the NAP. It’s entirely silent about what’s supposed to happen afterwards.

          Mine says the response should be proportionate and fitting to the crime. That may be the death penalty, but then you open up the can of worms of trusting the state with getting that right. The default after that would be something like life in prison without parole, I suppose.

          1. Mine says the response should be proportionate and fitting to the crime. That may be the death penalty, but then you open up the can of worms of trusting the state with getting that right.

            Assuming some group somewhere has opened that can, and it has been opened, does your libertarian playbook say that it’s on you to prevent them from doing so?

            I’d get it if libertarians said they didn’t want to pay for the death penalty, but that’s virtually never the case and their argument essentially boils down to “Jail the people I say for as long as I say.” which is its own can of worms.

          2. Umm… it is proportionate to the crime. Well, a bit less so. But don’t think anyone wants to force pregnancy on her before killing her.

          3. We trust the state to manage issues of far more importance then the handful of death row executions each year. Managing social security alone is orders of magnitude more impactful to lives then a few executions. It is a dumb argument against capital punishment, to point to government fallibility.

            Perhaps just bring back the stocks and public stoning, if that would make you feel better.

        2. It is a tricky question for libertarians. Prison is also a terrible thing to do to someone too, and it’s a power that can easily be abused or inconsistently applied like the death penalty. The death penalty is permanent in ways that imprisonment isn’t, but that doesn’t answer the dilemma.
          I’m inclined to reserve prison for people who are so dangerous they can’t be trusted to live among decent people.

          1. The death penalty is done to *a* person by *a* person. No prison anywhere operates at such an individual level without being far more brutal and/or expensive.

            Personally, I could entertain notions of justified killings by civilians or similar but, again, these aren’t the sorts of solutions the anti-death penalty groups are calling for, just the “Governments should expend untold resources to ensure no one dies in their custody, ever.” reactionary statist gateways.

    2. When she is dead, she will never murder another innocent person, ever. Fact.

  9. Ah that’s the argument eh? Mentally unwell, so just lock her up. I am sure we’ll be getting articles on how she was mistreated and shouldn’t be locked up after all. And so on.

    maybe she can join the peaceful protestors too.

    1. Federal prison for life is equated to having her join protests. Even if this was meant to prove a point, it failed, since you know nothing about federal prison conditions.

      How on a libertarian website is someone advocating for the death penalty. Geez.

      1. How on a libertarian website is someone advocating for the death penalty.

        Because the alternative isn’t “No death penalty.” unicorn farts. The alternative is “Steal from a bunch of law-abiding citizens who never killed anyone, including the survivors, so that an irredeemable murderer can sleep warm at night.”

        1. Many principled libertarians see the death penalty as a natural extension of the minarchical state’s power to enforce laws to protect its citizens. Far too many libertarians engage in the no true Scotsman fallacy.

          1. Then lets go with mob justice if we dont want the state involved.

        2. Except that death row is far more expensive than gen pop for life.

        3. The cost of fully litigating a death sentence exceeds the cost of life imprisonment.

      2. Because not everyone who defends liberty is naïve.

        1. Reminds me of a line from “Deadwood:”

          “You need to die, Steve.”

    2. Just post the Covid might kill her in prison, she should be released articles from a few weeks ago.

    3. I pretty sure that anyone, especially a woman who commits such a horrific act would be considered mentally unwell.

      1. Most women are “mentally unwell”. That shouldn’t absolve them of responsibility for their crimes.

        1. Hot Crazy Matrix?

  10. Fuck that…this lady gets the damned needle. The world will not weep her departure.

  11. The death penalty is not intended to be a deterrent.
    It is intended to demonstrate to the civilized world that there acts we consider so abhorrent that the perpetrator cannot be allowed to live.
    I have to note, however, if Lisa had been an MD, and killed the baby as soon as she cut it out, everything would be just fine.

    1. No, you can’t turn this into an anti-abortion trolling opportunity. There are lots and lots of relevant differences, the consent of the mother being very high among them.

      1. How about the consent of the child? Screw that ” clump of cells”.

        1. Hey, only SOME KINDS of consent matter there, Sgt. Bone! And only from SOME people!

  12. Executions should be televised. And we should go back to hanging. Televised hangings. People should know exactly what is going on when the federal government uses your tax dollars to execute people.

    1. So, $35 PPV just to see Montgomery hanged or $9.95/mo. subscription? Because it seems very much like I’m paying/we’re being charged well more than both for less justice and/or infotainment.

    2. Why spend our tax dollars? If we’re going to televise it, there’ll be aspiring sponsors lined up around the block.

    3. “According to federal data the average annual cost per prisoner in federal prisons is about $115,000. Higher security levels are more expensive. Costs for women prisoners are much higher.” Aug 23, 2018

      So pray tell us more about how our taxes are spent and what a shame it is to spend it on one execution vs. years of imprisonment.

      1. I’m not arguing for or against the death penalty here. But I don’t like how impersonal and secretive executions have become. They used to hang ’em high in public as a warning that this is what will happen if you violate the NAP. If the government wants to kill people, regardless of the reason, they should do it openly for all to see.

        We have a generation of people that have been completely inoculated from real violence, but showered in fake and virtual violence as entertainment. Watching people die is no joke.

        1. Hang them high and leave the bodies out for the crows.

          It is psychologically important to include a public shame element in as we have lost that aspect of deterence by hiding executions behind closed doors.

        2. This I agree with.

        3. I’m pretty sure most people understand the concept of being put to death.

        4. Point taken; if “we” are going to be in favor of executions, then “we” should be present for them.

  13. A dead murder is one who cannot escape prison. Check out the Texas seven who got caught just 30 miles from where I used to live. And for the new people who have joined the Libertarian Party, The stance against the death penalty is new to the plate form and should be removed. Remember prison are run mostly by the state and prisoners some time escape.

  14. What we accomplish by executing her is to deter tomorrow’s murderer and save his or her victim. And to serve this purpose it does not matter whether yesterday’s murderer was crazy.

    It’s about time. [Sound of toilet flushing]

  15. Almost forgot, Robert A. Heinlein book Starship trooper has a good insight on the death penalty.

    1. Many of Heinlein’s books have good insights on many things. Bless the man.

      1. Buy his books, keep them safe.

  16. While her goal seems irrational, she went about accomplishing it in a very premeditated, methodical fashion. The idea that because most people would not do such a thing for that reason means she is insane seems a circular argument. Also, the idea that past abuse means she cannot be held responsible for her actions suggests that she cannot be considered a full person. Does that apply to all people who have suffered abuse? What level of abuse does one have to have before you start taking away their rights before they harm someone?

    1. The idea that because most people would not do such a thing for that reason means she is insane seems a circular argument.

      At several levels. If they’re so crazy as to lose their agency, shouldn’t/doesn’t that diminish the concern with executing them? If a wolf had wandered into her home, torn her throat out, and proceeded to claw the baby out of her womb, we’d shoot the wolf, no questions asked. If she’d walked under a scaffolding that decapitated her and triggered a miscarriage, we’d remove the scaffolding.

      I agree that it could be an extenuating circumstance in felony-murder rule cases but the idea that these people generally have agency that needs preserving as evidenced by their lack of agency is itself a circular and pseudo-religious argument.

  17. Yes, this is a horrific crime but this lady sounds deeply disturbed to the point where I’m not sure she even knew what she was doing was wrong.

    1. Be sure.
      She confessed her crime immediately upon apprehension and said she knew it was wrong.

    2. She subdued her victim, began to perform a “battlefield” Cesarean, then snuffed the woman when she woke up from a knife in her abdomen.

      I’m not buying the “she didn’t know what she was doing” defense. She does not seem to be schizophrenic or psychotic, just freaking bizarre and willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill her wishes.

      By the way, the child she took from it’s mothers eviscerated womb is now 16 years old and doing fine. This was not an act of reckless abandon, it seems, but a carefully premeditated and executed act.

      1. Lay on, MacDuff.

        Seriously, *if* there’s going to be a death penalty, this woman should get it.

  18. I probably shouldn’t mention this, but Lisa Montgomery is (ex-MTV) Kennedy’s married name.

    1. The only reason why I opened the comments on this article was to see if anyone else remarked that TV’s Kennedy is also a Lisa Montgomery.

      Good eye, Cal.

  19. She clearly did it, so there’s no chance of an innocent person being executed, which is the only qualm a libertarian should have over the death penalty.

    1. I don’t really know what to think, but having the machinery in place to execute a clearly-guilty person might arguably allow the system to kill someone as to whose guilt there is more doubt.

  20. Is it libertarian for Trump to drive the push for both sentencing reforms as well as clearing a backlog of deathrow executions?

    1. You can clear that backlog simply by converting sentences.

      1. Life on death row has been converted to death on death row. Seems correct.

  21. She murdered a pregnant woman and cut out her fetus? Why is it unreasonable that she is executed? She poses a clear and present danger and we’d all be better off without her.

  22. “If they only knew how much fun I was having here, they would turn me loose.” Richard Speck , murderer of 8 student nurses- death sentenced overturned for life imprisonment.

  23. “What does killing her accomplish?”

    Vengeance.

    1. Justice, I want to denigrate you here, but I reserve that for dishonest crap like Tony and other leftists whose names aren’t even worth calling to memory.

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  25. Lisa Montgomery killed a pregnant woman and took her baby in 2004. She is clearly mentally unwell.

    The question isn’t whether someone is mentally unwell, but whether they are culpable. Mental disease may have caused her to desire another woman’s baby, but as long as she understood that the act was wrong, she is legally culpable.

  26. Abuse suffered during childhood should be a mitigating factor.

    Mental illness is more than just a mitigating factor.

    Prevention is better than cure.

    Does a culture which approves killing children before they are born, make it more likely that children will be abused after they are born?

    Prisons should not be “correctional facilities” in name only.

    1. You can “correct” a theft by paying restitution. You cannot “correct” a murder. That is why the death penalty is just.

      Stop equating murder with simpler crimes.

  27. The jury handed down a death sentence. End of discussion.

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  29. Accomplishes 2 things
    1. Punishment fits the crime
    2. Ensures a dangerous person never does such a thing again.

  30. What does killing her accomplish?

    It insures that the child she carved from her mother’s womb no longer has to live in a world with this particular monster in it.

    And that’s enough.

    When you spineless whelps whine about not letting the state have such power you REALLY need to consider what execution after trial replaced.

    In a sane world this creature wouldn’t have lived to stand trial, the people who discovered her, and what she’d done, would have executed her on the spot. She wouldn’t have lived 16 years into her victims life.

  31. I’m sorry, but are the violent actions of men any less a sign of mental illness?

    I’m all for ending the death penalty, but not just for this one woman because “that bitch is crazy.” There’s a lot of crazy out there, and we should see it in more than just women.

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  33. I do not care that the convict to be executed is woman.

    1. I don’t even care that she’s crazy. Murdered someone and cut their baby out of them? Guilty beyond reasonable doubt? Done.

  34. Three observations:
    1. “If the Bureau of Prisons follows through with Montgomery, she’ll be the first woman executed by the federal government since 1953….. Trump over the course of just six months will have tied the number of federal executions—10—carried out under President Harry S. Truman across his two terms. President Franklin D. Roosevelt will still have Trump beat by six.”
    Useless comparisons: (a) Trump’s DOJ is clearing a 17 year backlog – how many of the ten would have been executed already if not for the suspension; (b) FDR was I office for 3+ terms – 12 years, 1 month; (c) were Truman’s ten done in a six month period, or over his seven years?

    2. “What does killing her accomplish?” How about carrying out the verdict of a unanimous jury: “A jury unanimously recommended a death sentence.” However, an uniformed verdict:

    3. Why did her appeals team, rather than her trial attorney, discover that “According to her family and attorneys, Montgomery was a victim of severe abuse, raped repeatedly by her stepfather while she was a teen, and subjected to physical violence that might have left her brain damaged. She also had a history of claiming to be pregnant when she was not. (She had tubal ligation surgery in 1990 and could not get pregnant.) A lot of this family information was not provided to the jury during her sentencing phase; her appeals team uncovered it after her sentencing.” ?

    Read https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/24/death-row-the-lawyer-who-keeps-losing

  35. Not carrying out a prescribed punishment shows all victims and potential victims that their lives are worthless in the eyes of the authorities.
    In fact, it emphasizes the superior value of vicious subhuman garbage in official opinion.

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