Meese Commission

views updated


The Attorney General's Commission on Pornography, better known as "The Meese Commission" after Attorney General Edwin Meese, was charged 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." The committee included three attorneys, two psychologists, a city council member, a federal judge, a social worker, a magazine editor, and a priest. It had a balanced religious and political composition as well.

After a year of extensive hearings, field trips, and study, the commission produced a 1,960-page report. If the size of the report were not daunting enough, the findings of the commission were relatively inconclusive. Although the commission did take a stand on the issue of pornography—something a similar presidential commission established during the Nixon administration failed to do—it did not wholly condemn pornography as the right, especially the religious right, and feminists had hoped. Instead, it unanimously condemned sexually explicit material that is violent in nature; sexually explicit materials that show situations where women are humiliated, demeaned, and subjugated; and child pornography in any form.

A major problem the commission faced was its inability to define key terms. The commission found it difficult to define "pornography," "obscenity," and "hardcore." In the end, it could do no better than Justice potter j. stewart had in jacobellis v. ohio (1964). Stewart, although not defining pornography, qualified it by stating, "I know it when I see it." Hampered by the inability to define key terms, the commission called for further research.

Jeffrey D. Schultz


Attorney General ' s Commission on Pornography 1986 Final Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Keating, Charles H., Jr. , 1970 Report of Charles H. Keating, Jr., Commissioner: Commission of Obscenity and Pornography. Cincinnati, Ohio: Charles H. Keating, Jr.

Stanmeyer, William 1986 The Pornography Commission Report: A Plea for Decency. Benchmark II:227–236.