Attorney General Transcript
Response to Supreme Court Decision in Free Speech Coalition v. Ashcroft DOJ Conference Center Tuesday, April 16, 2002
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Good afternoon. One of the most important charges of law enforcement is to protect our children from harm, to protect our youngest from those who would abuse and exploit them. Children may be only 25 percent of our population, but they are 100 percent of our future.
This morning, the United States Supreme Court made our ability to prosecute those who produce and possess child pornography immeasurably more difficult. The court struck down two important provisions of the Child Pornography Prevention Act, a law passed with bipartisan support that attempted to curb child pornography. I supported laws to prevent child pornography when I served in the United States Senate, and in my current role as attorney general I have the important obligation and responsibility to enforce laws that protect our children.
I am disappointed that the court chose to make that obligatio n to prosecute child pornography more difficult. However, I am undeterred in my resolve to do all that I can to protect our children from the pornographers and other predators who would prey on their innocence.
In light of today's decision, I have directed the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to work with United States Attorneys Offices around the country to ensure that today's ruling affects as few of our pending child pornography cases as possible.
To avoid the dismissal of cases brought under the two provisions that the Supreme Court has struck, we will amend where possible and pursue general obscenity charges against those who have victimized children by producing or procuring child pornography.
We will continue to pursue national initiatives against child pornography like Operation Avalanche and Operation Candyman, the successes of which I have had the privilege of announcing here in recent months. These initiatives together, involving virtually all of our FBI field offices and U.S. attorneys' offices, have led to almost 200 arrests nationwide for online child exploitation and pornography.
We will dedicate new resources to this fight. The Criminal Division has dedicated nearly $1 million of additional resources to child exploitation and obscenity section endeavors. This commitment will authorize the creation of a new expert team of online specialists and prosecutors to pursue child pornography on the Internet. Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section individuals will add five additional investigators and two additional prosecutors to further our effort to curtail child pornography.
To bring the full weight of the Department of Justice to this fight today, I am revising the United States attorneys' manual to improve coordination and effectiveness in child pornography prosecutions. Since 1998, the manual has required that Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section seek the prior approval of the local U.S. attorney before commencing any investigation in any specific district.
The Attorney General's Advisory Committee of the United States Attorneys has indicated that this lockout provision has impeded the department's efforts to prosecute child pornography cases and recommended that it be changed.
Today I am authorizing the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section to pursue cases simply after notifying the U.S. attorney for the affected district. It is no longer a requirement that the U.S. attorney approve or otherwise provide sanction for the investigation. Therefore, the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section will no longer be required to obtain approval from the U.S. attorney for investigations and cases.
Finally, I am committed to working with the Congress to develop strong measures to fight child pornography that will survive judicial scrutiny. I believe today's opinion and the Constitution leave open legislative avenues to protect our children from harm, and we will seek to develop the means to do so with legislative endeavor.
As I said at the beginning, the protection of America's children is one of the most important missions of this Department of Justice. I would warn the child pornographers and others who exploit our children that they will find little refuge in today's decision. We will continue to use every available resource to identify, investigate and prosecute child pornography cases to the fullest extent of the law.
Thank you very much.