Holder and Obscenity Prosecutions


Some civil libertarians worry that Eric Holder will be inclined to continue the Bush administration's crusade against pornography. They cite a June 1998 memo in which he told U.S. attorneys that obscenity prosecutions should focus on "cases involving large-scale distributors who realize substantial income from multistate operations and cases in which there is evidence of organized crime involvement" but added that "cases involving relatively small distributors can have a deterrent effect." The Clinton administration's actual track record in this area, however, consisted almost entirely of cases involving child pornography. "We continue to make these [child porn] cases a priority," Holder says in the memo. Social conservatives often complained that the Clinton administration was not interested in taking on pornography made by and for consenting adults. We probably can look forward to hearing such complaints again under the Obama administration.

Here is a 2000 account from J. Robert Flores, vice president and senior counsel at the National Law Center for Children and Families, of the May 1998 meeting that apparently generated Holder's memo: 

Mr. Holder seemed genuinely concerned with our requests. But he had little understanding of the obscenity industry. Afterwards, he contacted all 93 U.S. attorneys in the states to remind them that the prosecution of obscenity producers and distributors was still a priority, and they were responsible to act.

Still, nothing happened. The porn industry's trade publications reported the Justice Department had sent this letter, but pornographers obviously didn't fear prosecution and continued "business as usual."

In the May 2004 issue of reason, Greg Beato reported on U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan's prosecution of Extreme Associates, an obscenity case that's scheduled for trial in March. This year Nick Gillespie interviewed John Stagliano, another target of the Bush administration anti-porn campaign.