Jeff Sessions says he’d prosecute porn. Trump appeared in multiple porns.

Jeff Sessions Just Said He’d Prosecute Porn. President-Elect Trump Appeared in Multiple Porns.

Jeff Sessions Just Said He’d Prosecute Porn. President-Elect Trump Appeared in Multiple Porns.

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Jan. 10 2017 12:44 PM

Jeff Sessions Just Said He’d Prosecute Porn. President-Elect Trump Appeared in Multiple Porns.

A handsome delivery man holding an insulated pizza delivery bag.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images, Lisa F. Young/Thinkstock.

In Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions’ appointment to be Donald Trump’s attorney general, the topic of pornography came up. Specifically, Sen. Orrin Hatch asked Sen. Sessions whether or not he would more “vigorously” prosecute adult obscenity laws targeting pornography and re-establish a special unit to prosecute these cases that former Attorney General Eric Holder disbanded during Obama's first term.

“Those laws are clear and being prosecuted today and should be continued to be effectively and vigorously prosecuted in the cases that are appropriate,” Sessions said.


Of the Justice Department’s shuttered Obscenity Prosecution Task Force, Sessions said this: “That unit has been disbanded. I’m not sure I knew that, but it was a part of the Department of Justice for a long time and I would consider [reviving it].”

Obama’s administration has been criticized by the right for de-emphasizing adult porn prosecutions, as well as for closing that special unit. Like previous administrations, Obama has focused his prosecutions of obscenity laws on going after those accused of distributing child pornography. But in 2005, under pressure from the religious right, George W. Bush’s administration decided to more actively enforce federal laws against adult pornography, including setting up a special task force to prosecute those cases.

As Politico noted in 2011, when it reported on Holder's move, pornography judged to be obscene is still illegal:

Although pornography is ubiquitous on the Internet, distribution of hard-core pornography online or by mail remains a violation of federal law if the material violates community standards, is patently offensive and lacks serious, artistic, scientific, political or literary merit. Whether it violates such standards or lacks merit is up to a jury to decide, if such a case goes to trial.

When Obama came into office, his justice department continued outstanding prosecutions from the Bush era but did not begin new adult pornography prosecutions. In 2011, nearly half of U.S. senators sent the Obama administration a letter asking it to pursue these cases in federal courts. The letters signatories were mainly conservatives, including Hatch. But a few Democrats, including the current ranking member of the Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein, signed it as well. Sessions did not.

Funnily enough, our incoming president has his own history with pornography. More precisely, he has appeared in some (plural) soft-core pornographic films.

None of the appearances included nude work by the president-elect. One such appearance was in the 2000 Playboy soft-core film Video Centerfold, whose plot centered around women named "Carol and Darlene" who "bare their sex appeal and lead you on a sensual journey of discovery." The others were in 1994 and 2001 Playboy films.

As Politico reported five years ago, any recent adult pornography prosecutions “usually focused on cases involving violent pornography, simulated rape or unusual fetishes.” Hatch has complained in the past that the Justice Department didn’t do enough to prosecute larger distributors of more mainstream pornography. In his questioning of Sessions, Hatch cited arguments that adult pornography “should be viewed as a public health problem” and referenced “some of the latest research into the harms of obscenity.”

As Daniel Engber reported in Slate last month, recent research has raised doubts about a past study that purported to show that watching pornography can be detrimental to relationships.