Attorney General Edwin Meese III yesterday named an 11-member commission, headed by Arlington County Commonwealth's Attorney Henry E. Hudson, to study pornography and, "if appropriate," recommend measures to control its production and distribution.
"Formation of this commission reflects the concern a healthy society must have regarding the ways in which its people publicly entertain themselves," Meese said at a news conference.
"The commission is an affirmation of the proposition that the purpose of a democracy involves . . . the achievement of the good life and the good society."
Barry Lynn, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union here, said composition of the commission suggests that it may "find new ways to censor material" because some members "cannot be said to have an open mind about sexually explicit material."
Lynn specifically mentioned Hudson, 38, who has campaigned actively against pornography in Arlington County, and the Rev. Bruce Ritter, a Roman Catholic priest who is founder and president of Covenant House, an international child-care agency.
Hudson, yesterday recalling a 1983 White House visit, said President Reagan mentioned that he was "pleased with my efforts to control pornography and massage parlors" in Arlington County in the mid-1970s.
In recent years, Hudson said, there have been few prosecutions in Arlington involving X-rated films and other pornographic materials. In the mid-1970s, he said, he helped close several "adult" bookstores and massage parlors.
Hudson said the Justice Department asked him earlier this year whether he would head the commission. As head, he said, he would "try to determine whether a relationship exists between pornography and violent sexual exploitation."
He said he "doesn't know" whether such a relationship exists but that he thinks that the opinions of law enforcement people are that a relationship exists and warrants a Department of Justice study.
Meese said that, even though some commission members "have a professional view on pornography," the commission as a whole has "broad expertise." He said, ". . . We do not want to infringe on First Amendment rights."
In 1970, a similar commission found little or no relationship between pornography and anti-social actions. It recommended that pornography not be restricted and said interest in sex is "normal, healthy and good."
Meese said "reexamination of the issue of pornography is long overdue" because its content has changed radically, with "more and more emphasis upon extreme violence."
Since the 1970 commission met, Meese noted, cable television and video cassette recorders have made pornographic material more easily available in the home, so, "No longer must one go out of the way to find it ."
The new commission has scheduled public hearings beginning June 19 and 20 at the Justice Department, with subsequent hearings in Miami, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and New York.
Meese said the commission has been authorized to study the "dimensions of pornography, particularly visual and graphic pornography;" to investigate the "production and distribution of pornographic materials;" and to review "empirical and scientific evidence on the relationship between exposure to pornographic materials and antisocial behavior."
Other panel members are Judith Veronica Becker, associate professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University; Vice Mayor Diane Cusack of Scottsdale, Ariz.; Park Elliott Dietz, associate law professor at the University of Virginia and a main government witness in the trial of presidential assailant John W. Hinckley Jr., and James C. Dobson, formerly an associate clinical professor of pediatrics and now president of the syndicated radio program, "Focus on the Family."
Others are U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Garcia of Sacramento, Calif.; Ellen Levine, vice president of the CBS magazine division and editor-in-chief of Woman's Day magazine; attorney Tex Lezar, former assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Policy; Frederick Schauer, law professor at the University of Michigan, and Deanne Tilton, president of the California Consortium of Child Abuse Councils.