Could Romney Really Ban Porn?

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Republican Presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, may hold the most unpopular stance in American history: he wants to ban as much porn as he can. A 2007 video (below) of Romney promising to place porn filters on every new computer have resurfaced after his legal adviser “assured” President Reagan’s anti-porn legal crusader that Romney sticks by his pledge to curtail porn and resumes prosecution under latent federal obscenity laws.

“Computer pornography has given new meaning to the words ‘home invasion,’” Romney said at a 2007 Values Voter summit, “If I am President, I will work to make sure that every computer sold into the home has an easy to engage pornography filter so that every parent can protect their child from unwanted filth.” Federal obscenity laws used to prosecute porn moguls, such as Hustler’s Larry Flynt, have largely been limited to child pornography since the rise of the Internet, but there’s an open debate as to whether they could be reactivated.

According to The Daily Caller, Romney’s foreign and legal policy director, Alex Wong, personally assured former Justice Department porn prosecutors Patrick Truman and Bob Flores, that a Presidential Romney would go after porn peddlers with a pitchfork. “Wong assured us that Romney is very concerned with this, and that if he’s elected these laws will be enforced,” Trueman told The Daily Caller. ”They promised to vigorously enforce federal adult obscenity laws.”

Prosecutions fell out of fashion with the Clinton administration, whose Attorney General, Janet Reno, didn’t feel the need to make it a priority. The momentum carried over to the Bush administration. “My understanding was that after 9/11 hit, [Attorney General John Ashcroft] was advised that he’d look frivolous if he did pornography cases,” Trueman said.

The hasn’t stopped die-hard moral crusaders from keeping the promise of obscenity prosecutions on a legal respirator for a time when they can be resuscitated. Utah Senator and libertarian arch-nemesis, Orrin Hatch, recently wrote a strongly worded letter urging current Attorney General Eric Holder to resume the porn purge. Even the Utah Attorney General’s website is keeping hope alive, stating:

“Many people believe material must be legal if it is available in their community such as at a store, on television or on the radio. This belief is false. The mere fact that the material is available does not mean it is legal, but law enforcement cannot seize suspected pornographic material without a court order… Citizen complaints are crucial for prosecutions to occur.”

Legally speaking, porn isn’t protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court gave porn prosecutors a present in Miller v. California (1973), declaring that “patently offensive” material that appeals to prurient interests must confirm to contemporary “community standards.”

The ability of a particularly squeamish community to ban porn was once confined to certain geographical locations, but, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation warns, the Internet reaches all communities, and at least one previous court held this to mean that content should conform to the community “most likely to be offended by the message.”

“I think they would probably prosecute”, Flynt said, of Romney’s potential attorney general, but he isn’t worried, “they have nothing to do with the success of the prosecution.”

Cracking down on morally objectionable material might be an unpopular move, but past Attorneys General, such as Alberto Gonzales, have been known to stretch the legal limits of the law to ram through the interests of the current president.

[Image Credit, Flickr User Feathers]