Alternate headline: “Noted social conservative notably socially conservative.”

America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography. A wealth of research is now available demonstrating that pornography causes profound brain changes in both children and adults, resulting in widespread negative consequences. Addiction to pornography is now common for adults and even for some children. The average age of first exposure to hard-core, Internet pornography is now 11. Pornography is toxic to marriages and relationships. It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking…

Current federal “obscenity” laws prohibit distribution of hardcore (obscene) pornography on the Internet, on cable/satellite TV, on hotel/motel TV, in retail shops and through the mail or by common carrier. Rick Santorum believes that federal obscenity laws should be vigorously enforced. “If elected President, I will appoint an Attorney General who will do so.”

The Obama Administration has turned a blind eye to those who wish to preserve our culture from the scourge of pornography and has refused to enforce obscenity laws. While the Obama Department of Justice seems to favor pornographers over children and families, that will change under a Santorum Administration.

Can he do that? Sure, says con law prof Eugene Volokh:

Santorum’s administration could take American-based porn distributors to court for violating obscenity laws, said Volokh, and have them shuttered. But that would leave foreign-based sites untouched.

To black out foreign sites, Santorum would likely need legislative action requiring Internet service providers to use “a mandatory filter set up by the government or by the service providers,” said Volokh.

But the government could also prosecute individual citizens who view porn, and already has the legal authority to do it.

“Although the Supreme Court says private possession is constitutionally protected, it has said that private receipt of [pornography] is not protected,” noted Volokh. “You can’t prosecute them all … but you can find certain types of pornography that are sufficiently unpopular” for easy convictions, he explained.

Here’s a quickie primer on the, er, ins and outs of First Amendment obscenity jurisprudence. The Miller test is key; note how much leeway there is potentially in the definitions of “community standards” and “patently offensive.” (Note too that Miller protects works that have “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” Under President Santorum, expect the genre of Shakespearean porn to explode.) Beyond what Volokh says, another way Santorum could get at Internet porn, ironically, is by helping porn studios to enforce the copyrights on their movies against the galaxy of piracy sites. That might actually be more palatable politically: When his opponents accuse him of squelching free speech, he could counter that he’s not trying to ban porn but rather to ensure that consumers pay the people who produced it. He’s a property rights guy! In that case, both sides get something they want — porn viewing would likely drop sharply overall since casual consumers won’t be willing to pay and revenue for porn studios would leap when devotees who can’t do without it decide to pony up. Imagine shelling out for a DVD and then finding yourself prosecuted by the Santorum DOJ. Double whammy.

Question: Why is this suddenly coming up now? Did the media simply notice a longstanding statement on Santorum’s website about porn or is he actively circulating it, presumably to counter the meme that he’s anti-woman? Plenty of women will appreciate his position on this, among them the right’s favorite liberal feminist. It’s not a position that Romney, Obama, or any other mainstream politician in America would lightly criticize him for either, even if they think it’s a threat to free speech and a ruinous waste of prosecution resources. Some reporter’s bound to ask Mitt about this in the coming days. What does he say? A la contraception, that we should just leave porn alone? Or that Santorum is right and it’s time for a crackdown, which will bug the hell out of libertarians but pose no problem to social conservatives? It’s time for a social-issues GOP civil war! Let’s do this.