May 6, 2011
Bipartisan Criticism Targets Department of Justice’s Adult Porn Enforcement
This week's congressional oversight hearings of the Department of Justice (DOJ) focused on issues of homeland security and the legal questions (re)ignited by the death Osama Bin Laden Sunday night. The hearings also addressed other issues, from online poker to how the NCAA conducts football championships. One criticism levied by both liberals and conservatives was the DOJ's handling of adult obscenity or illegal hard-core pornography.
One suspected reason was the prioritization of child pornography. These cases left few resources for the enforcement of adult obscenity laws. To fix this, the DOJ initiated the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, a special unit within the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS). In February, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer put an end to the task force by rolling it back into the CEOS.
DOJ spokeswoman Laura Sweeney told Politico the move “provides for increased collaboration among experienced attorneys and agents, and gives our prosecutors the most solid foundation possible for pursuing their mission.”
For anti-obscenity activists, the elimination of the task force was a sign that the DOJ was not taking illegal adult pornography seriously.
Social conservatives mobilized to put pressure on the DOJ. This effort was led by Porn Harms, a website that provides research on adult pornography. Porn Harms was founded by Patrick Trueman who is a former head of CEOS.
Earlier this week, Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink and other groups joined Porn Harms on a campaign to tell the DOJ to enforce obscenity laws. The DOJ responded by asking the company running the toll-free phone campaign to stop, which it did. Porn Harms quickly arranged another number for people to use.
On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan coalition in each chamber wrote Holder to ask about the DOJ's policing of adult obscenity.
In the House, the coalition was led by Randy Forbes (R-V.A.) and Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.). The Senate version of the letter had Orin Hatch (R-Utah) at the top, but signers included liberal Democrats on the Senate Judiciary committee including Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Also signing the letter were Democrats Tom Carper (D-Del.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.). In all, 42 Senators (including half of the Judiciary Committee) signed the letter asking for greater attention to illegal hard core pornography.
At the House hearing on Tuesday, Forbes asked Holder about the elimination of the OPTF and the DOJ's record on adult obscenity. Holder did not have an answer for the legislator.
The next day, however, Holder was better prepared for the Senate hearing. When Hatch asked a similar question, Holder told him that there had been 150 obscenity cases in the past two years. Of these, only seven adult obscenity and unrelated to child pornography. Holder said that in the five years prior, the number was only 15 cases.
“I think you need to do a lot more,” Hatch said.
The DOJ's Sweeney told Main Justice, “As the Criminal Division has done in other areas in the past few years, it has worked to ensure it is using its limited resources in the most efficient and effective manner.”