Politics
Politics

DOJ Shuts Down Obscenity Task Force

| by Reason Foundation

By Jacob Sullum

Politico's Josh Gerstein reports that Attorney General Eric Holder has quietly shut down the Justice Department's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force—a major reason social conservatives are unhappy with federal efforts in this area.

Two weeks ago (as Radley Balko noted here), Sen Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and 41 other senators sent Holder a letter urging him to step up obscenity prosecutions. Last week Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich responded, saying "the Department has focused its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources on the most egregious cases, particularly those that facilitate child exploitation and those that involve the sexual abuse of children, including obscene depictions of child rape." That is pretty clearly a kiss-off to critics whose complaint is that the Justice Department is no longer interested in prosecuting people for pornography featuring adults and aimed at adults.

Gerstein suggests "the death knell for the [obscenity] unit may have come last July, when its prosecution of porn director and producer John Stagliano ran aground in federal court in Washington, D.C." The jury in that case did not even get to decide whether the material at issue was in fact obscene because prosecutors failed to provide sufficient evidence linking it to Stagliano, an embarrassing failure that led U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon to throw out the charges against him. Former obscenity prosecutor Patrick Trueman, now the president of Morality in Media, offers a gateway theory to justify prosecuting people like Stagliano, telling Gerstein that "significant numbers [of] adult porn consumers move eventually to child porn because nothing else excites them."

More on the Stagliano case here. I discuss hopes and fears about obscenity prosecutions under the Obama administration here and here.