US Supreme Court Case — Indian Child Welfare Act

by Mark Demaray on April 19, 2013

As many of you may have seen in the national news this past week, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case known as Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl  - commonly called the “Baby Veronica” case.   This very difficult case arose out of a situation where a birth mother living in Oklahoma placed her child for adoption at birth with a South Carolina adoptive family.  The South Carolina Court ruled that under state law, because the alleged father of the child did not support the birth mother during her pregnancy, nor did he step up to show any interest in or support the child until some four months after the child was born, he would not have had the ability under state law to consent to or veto an adoption plan that the birth mother had  chosen.   However, the father was ultimately awarded custody of the child and the adoption disrupted after the child had been in the adoptive home for more than 2 years as the father was a member of the Cherokee Nation and as  such, the South Carolina court ruled that a federal law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) controlled in this case and overruled state law. This case involves some very difficult legal and social issues of whether the federal ICWA law changes the state law rules of how to determine who is a parent, who has rights and what factors should be considered in proposed adoption and child custody determinations involving a child with Native American or Alaskan Native heritage.  

I was honored to have been able to be present in the Supreme Court in Washington DC for the arguments in this case and  to speak to the national press and many news organizations after the court hearing as the spokesperson for and former President of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys who participated in the case by filing Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) briefs.   The Academy’s expertise was sought out to help explain the very detailed and delicate issues being considered by the Supreme Court in this case.   I sincerely hope that the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will provide some guidance and clarity to all adoption practitioners throughout this country as to when and to whom ICWA applies so that adoptions of Indian Children can be accomplished properly and safely with respect for the rights of all parties and Tribes who may be involved.   A decision in this very important case is expected to come down in June and I will post the result at that time. 

Mark     

 

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