“Aggressive prosecution” of obscenity cases will be a top priority of the Justice Department in 2005, new U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Monday.
The former White House lawyer placed an obscenity crackdown on the same list of priorities as the war on terror, deterring violent crime, lobbying for victims’ rights legislation, reforming immigration laws and eliminating human trafficking.
Combating obscenity is critical to advancing “the cause of justice and human dignity,” he told board members of the Hoover Institution in Washington Monday.
Hoover is a think tank backed by Stanford University.
“I am strongly committed to ensuring the right of free speech; the right of ordinary citizens and of the press to speak out and to express their views and ideas is one of the greatest strengths of our form of government, but obscene materials are not protected by the First Amendment,” Gonzales said.
Gonzalez was introduced by visiting Hoover fellow and former Republican Attorney Edwin Meese, who himself launched a high-profile media smut crackdown while in the Reagan administration.
In the wake of a federal court ruling that throws the government’s ability to combat obscenity into question, Gonzales said he has ordered Justice Department lawyers to “carefully review federal laws to see how we might strengthen our hand in prosecuting obscenity.”
Two weeks ago, the Justice Department said it will appeal a U.S. District Court decision dismissing a criminal-obscenity indictment against porn distributor Extreme Associates. The court’s ruling cleared the company of obscenity trafficking charges stemming from its distribution of a pornographic movie that simulated raping and killing of women.
A crackdown on obscenity would go hand-in-hand with congressional efforts to mete out harsher punishment for indecent broadcasts on TV and radio and would raise the specter of a government attempt to restrict pay-per-view X-Rated movies on cable. The House two weeks ago voted to increase the maximum fine for a single indecent broadcast to $500,000. A Senate version still awaiting a vote would hike fines to $325,000.
Indecency, which court rulings have said the government may regulate but not ban entirely, is defined as depictions of sexual or excretory activities in a way that is meant to pander and shock and violates local community standards. TV and radio stations may broadcast indecent programming only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., to lessen the chance that children will be in the audience. Obscenity enjoys no First Amendment protection and may be banned but the government has not been able to define exactly what a program must depict in order to be considered obscene.