Volume 13

The Legal Weaponization of Racialized DNA: A New Genetic Politics of Affirmative Action

by Jonathan Kahn

A white man in Washington State tries to use the results of his DNA ancestry test to claim access to minority set-aside contracts. A conservative federal circuit court judge in Texas invokes the work of an anti-racist evolutionary biologist to argue that since race is not genetic then racial categories are arbitrary and cannot be used as legitimate legal classifications for affirmative action programs.2 A Democratic state attorney general employs correlations between race and the frequency of certain genetic variations affecting drug response to build a fraud case against a major pharmaceutical corporation. And a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination hires a MacArthur award-winning population geneticist to show the world that her ancestry includes Native American roots. In these cases and others, genetic knowledge is increasingly being weaponized to make legal and political claims to racial identity in ways that have profound implications for race and the law.

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