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Eric Holder, ‘Porn Facilitator'? 'Dirty' List Highlights Lull In Obscenity War

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WASHINGTON -- Forget big banks. In the eyes of one conservative group, Attorney General Eric Holder has failed in his duty to take down big porn.

Morality in Media put Holder at the top of its “Dirty Dozen List” of “top pornography facilitators” this week, placing the nation’s leading law enforcement official in the company of Comcast, Facebook, the American Library Association, Twitter, Wikipedia and even the Department of Defense.

“Holder’s actions keep the porn industry thriving,” Patrick A. Trueman, president of Morality in Media, said in a press release. “He not only refuses to enforce obscenity laws currently on the books that prohibit the distribution of hardcore pornography, but he even disbanded the office charged with enforcement.”

Trueman, who headed the DOJ’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section until 1993, is referring to Holder’s 2011 decision to shut down the Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, which was formed in 2005. Obscenity prosecutions dropped during the Clinton administration after Trueman left the department. The Obama administration hasn’t brought a new obscenity case since taking office in 2009, and during the Bush administration, Trueman acknowledges, obscenity prosecutions were at relatively low levels.

Trueman had some hope that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would reverse that trend, with his team promising it would crack down on porn during the presidential campaign. But while some politicians, including a handful of Democrats, have called on the DOJ to step up prosecutions of adult pornography, First Amendment advocates are just fine with the lull.

“It’s tough to imagine a bigger waste of taxpayer money than using limited prosecutorial resources to target porn depicting legal acts between consenting adults,” wrote Think Progress.

Larry Walters, a First Amendment lawyer who has represented the adult industry, told HuffPost that enforcing obscenity laws didn't seem to be a priority for the Obama administration. "I suspect that is based largely on public sentiment,” he said. “We’ve become much more tolerant of exotic material as a society in the United States, as has much of the world with the ready access of erotic material and explicit material on the Internet.”

The DOJ acknowledges that obscenity cases haven’t been at the top of its to-do list. In a statement issued to The Huffington Post in response to the Morality in Media list, a spokeswoman emphasized the DOJ’s pursuit of cases that protect “women, families and children,” adding that the department would use “all the prosecutorial tools available to us, including federal obscenity statutes” to protect the public.

“As with any federal matter, the Department focuses its limited investigative and prosecutorial resources on the most egregious cases, particularly those that facilitate child exploitation or involve the sexual abuse of children,” spokeswoman Nanda Chitre wrote. “This prioritization is critical given the dramatic increase in the sexual exploitation of children and the increasing severity of the images in child pornography cases, with more images depicting prepubescent children and infants and more images depicting violence and sadism.”

Walters said it’s a good sign that the Obama administration has not gone after pornographers producing content between consenting adults.

“I don’t think that the administration is friendly with the industry or that the industry is necessarily happy with the Department of Justice. There’s a quiet detente is how I would describe it right now,” Walters said.

“With the juries reading 50 Shades of Grey, it’s going to be pretty tough to argue that material that’s erotic in nature should result in someone being put in a cage,” Walters added. “We’re a cash-strapped nation, and we have to be very careful of where we devote our law enforcement dollars. There’s a lot of financial corruption, there’s a lot of fraud, there’s all kinds of valid use of law enforcement dollars, and I don’t think the public has the appetite to see widespread obscenity prosecutions.”

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