Get ready to swab. Liberals warn that giving cops the power to take your DNA undermines civil liberties. Is a dangerous era of genetic testing upon us? It’s closer than you think.
If there’s ever a time when Antonin Scalia really rises to the occasion, it’s when he serves as the Supreme Court’s liberal conscience.
That’s not the role that’s ordinarily expected of him, of course, but it’s a role he does play from time to time. And he got to play it again yesterday when the Court ruled in Maryland v. King that police can require arrestees to submit to DNA sampling as part of the booking process, with the results matched to a national database to solve old cases. In a slashing dissent entertainingly written even by Scalia-dissent standards, he joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan to accuse his conservative colleagues of flunking Civil Liberties 101. (Justice Stephen Breyer, ordinarily a liberal vote, was meanwhile crossing over to join the conservative majority.)
Yesterday’s case arose after police arrested Alonzo King for threatening several people with a shotgun, and found his DNA matched that from an unsolved 2003 rape. King challenged the constitutionality of Maryland’s 2008 law requiring arrestees to submit to DNA testing.
The rapid advance of DNA matching technology, which can establish a speck of tissue or bodily fluid as belonging to one and only one individual in the world, has opened up a new era in police forensics, with detectives regularly closing old cases and solving newly committed ones. Equally exciting, the tests have cleared many innocent persons by establishing others’ responsibility.