HISTORY LESSON: 1985 Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography: Final Report


1.1 The Commission and its Mandate





The Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (referred to throughout this Report as “The Commission”) was established pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act,[1] on February 22, 1985 by then Attorney General of the United States William French Smith, at the specific request of President Ronald Reagan. Notice of the formation of The Commission, as required by Section 9(c) of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, was given to both Houses of Congress and to the Library of Congress on March 27 and March 28, 1985. On May 20, 1985, Attorney General Edwin Meese III publicly announced formation of The Commission and the names of its eleven members, all of whom served throughout the duration of The Commission’s existence.

The formal mandate of The Commission is contained in its Charter, which is attached to this Report in Appendix A. In accordance with that Charter, we were asked to “determine the nature, extent, and impact on society of pornography in the United States, and to make specific recommendations to the Attorney General concerning more effective ways in which the spread of pornography could be contained, consistent with constitutional guarantees.” Our scope was undeniably broad, including the specific mandate to “study … the dimensions of the problem of pornography,” to “review … the available empirical evidence on the relationship between exposure to pornographic materials and antisocial behavior,” and to explore “possible roles and initiatives that the Department of justice and agencies of local, State, and federal government could pursue in controlling, consistent with constitutional guarantees, the production and distribution of pornography.”

Because we are a commission appointed by the Attorney General, whose responsibilities are largely focused on the enforcement of the law, issues relating to the law and to law enforcement have occupied a significant part of our hearings, our deliberations, and the specific recommendations that accompany this Report. That our mandate from the Attorney General involves a special concern with enforcement of the law, however, should not indicate that we have ignored other aspects of the issue. Although we have tried to concentrate on law enforcement, we felt that we could not adequately address the issue of pornography, including the issue of enforcement of laws relating to pornography, unless we looked in a larger context at the entire phenomenon of pornography. As a result, we have tried to examine carefully the nature of the industry, the social, moral, political, and scientific concerns relating to or purportedly justifying the regulation of that industry, the relationship between law enforcement and other methods of social control, and a host of other topics that are inextricably linked with law enforcement issues. These various topics are hardly congruent with the issue of law enforcement, however, and thus it has been necessarily the case that issues other than law enforcement in its narrowest sense have been before us. In order that this Report accurately reflect what we thought about and what we felt to be important, we have included in the Report our findings and recommendations with respect to many issues that are related to but not the same as law enforcement.

For similar reasons, we have been compelled to consider substantive topics not, strictly speaking, specified exactly in our charter. A few examples ought to make clear the problems that surround trying to consider an issue that itself has no clear boundaries: We have heard testimony and considered the relationship between the pornography industry and organized crime, and this has forced us to consider the nature of organized crime itself; we have examined the evidence regarding the relationship between pornography and certain forms of anti-social conduct, and this has necessitated thinking about those other factors that might also be causally related to anti-social conduct, and about just what conduct we consider anti-social; we have thought about child pornography, and this has caused us to think about child abuse; and we have, in the course of thinking about the relationship between pornography and the family, thought seriously about the importance of the family in contemporary America. This list of examples is hardly exhaustive. We mention them here, however, only to show that our inquiry could not be and has not been hermetically sealed. But we all feel that what we may have lost in focus has more than been compensated for in the richness of our current contextual understanding of the issue of pornography.

To read the whole report, click HERE.


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