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“Be on the lookout for suspects wearing heavy no clothing”

Question: Last month, what did interim U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta tell FBI brass was the Department of Justice’s top priority for law enforcement?

Would it be terrorism? Organized crime? Narcotics trafficking? Immigration? Or maybe public corruption?


[I]t’s obscenity. Not pornography involving children, but pornographic material featuring consenting adults.

His own prosecutors have warned Acosta that prioritizing adult porn would reduce resources for prosecuting other crimes, including porn involving children. According to high-level sources who did not want to be identified, Acosta has assigned prosecutors porn cases over their objections.

According to Acosta, obscenity prosecutions are a top priority of his boss, Attorney General Alberto “I’ve Got The Right Initials” Gonzales. It’s an obsession I’m alarmed to learn Gonzales shares with his predecessor, a giant goldfish whose name escapes me.

Now, I acknowledge (before you bring it up again, Olly) that few, if any, Attorneys General are going to walk on sunshine in the eyes of civil libertarians, and much of the rap they get is merely for enforcing laws it is their job to enforce. And admittedly that is the case here: obscenity is, yes, illegal subject to prohibition.

But every prosecutor has an enormous amount of discretion, as they have neither the resources nor, I’d guess, the inclination to prosecute every crime that is on the books.

And the truly bad A’sG are bad not because they enforce laws per se, but because they choose to enforce the wrong ones at the wrong times. Here, at a time when we are faced with terrorism and a bit of a rash of severely injurious white collar crime, two consecutive Attorneys General look across the national criminal landscape and decide that obscenity is our most pressing problem. They would rather chill protected speech and crack down on a highly prosperous and harmless national industry (with little likely effect — it’ll go offshore and still be right here at our fingertips) than tackle real criminal problems.

It’s a bad time for free speech.

(Fairness and balance addendum: I suppose I’m glad they didn’t choose to prioritize narcotics or immigration, but it doesn’t mean things’ll get any easier on those fronts.)


3 AM UPDATE below the fold

My own nitpicky ass made me change obscenity’s stated legal status from “illegal” to “subject to prohibition” because that is the constitutional status of obscenity. States may prohibit it, although the Supreme Court is pretty tough on bans on mere possession; and the federal government prohibits a lot of activities surrounding the movement of obscenity in interstate commerce — which of course means obscenity created, distributed or possessed by anyone anywhere.

BTW, a cursory Lexis search of the US Code gives us the following federal obscenity crimes. If many of them seem redundant, remember, this is Congress.

-Customs Officers aiding importation of obscene or treasonous books and articles

-Possession with intent to sell, and sale, of obscene matter on Federal property

-Mailing obscene or crime-inciting matter

-Importation or transportation of obscene matters

-Broadcasting obscene language

-Transportation of obscene matters for sale or distribution

-Engaging in the business of selling or transferring obscene matter

-Obscene visual representations of the sexual abuse of children

-Distributing obscene material by cable or subscription television

-Transfer of obscene material to minors

-Importing, Mailing, or Transporting Obscene Matter

-Transferring Obscene Matter to a Minor; Misleading Domain Names

-Obscene Telephone Communications for a Commercial Purpose

-Broadcasting Obscene Material

-Obscene or harassing telephone calls in the District of Columbia or in interstate or foreign communications

-Obscene programming

  1. Adelaide says:

    Great isinght. Relieved I’m on the same side as you.

  2. Danimal says:

    Speaking of thinking-of-the-children, there are these joyful moments in the article:But should porn be a priority in a place like Miami, where serious crime is rampant? “It’s all part of the same thing, of the organized crime syndicate,” [Randy] Sharp [of the American Family Association] said. “It has an effect on children.”Cf. the FBI’s ideas about what has an effect on children:Sources say Acosta was told by the FBI officials during last month’s meeting that obscenity prosecution would have to be handled by the crimes against children unit. But that unit is already overworked and would have to take agents off cases of child endangerment to work on adult porn cases. Acosta replied that this was Attorney General Gonzales’ mandate.

  3. Olly says:

    “And the truly bad A’sG are bad not because they enforce laws per se, but because they choose to enforce the wrong ones at the wrong times.”

    Agreed 100%. What I don’t get about this is why our beloved depraved filth is such a hobbyhorse for these people. You literally cannot stop the spread of pornography across new forms of technology – it’s the undisputed pioneer genre of human expression. It’s already about as regulated under the law as it can be. And I was under the impression that the Meese report turned out to be a busted flush for its authors, politically speaking. Apart from a little thinking-of-the-children, I don’t see the percentage.

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