U.S. Supreme Court to hear high-profile adoption, custody case

A case scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next month is commanding strong interest across the country for persons, agencies and state courts involved in adoptions involving Native American children. The case — Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, more widely known in the media as the Baby Veronica case — is widely viewed as likely to set a strong precedent in future child custody matters where the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is involved.

That legislation was written in 1978 following years of tribal complaints concerning a long-time national practice of removing Native American children from their parents and placing them for adoption outside reservations with, frequently, Caucasian couples. It is estimated that, between 1958 and 1967, close to 400 Indian children were placed with families under a federal project.

The ICWA was a congressional response to that, with the Act mandating that the biological parents of a Native American child, as well as Indian tribes and custodians, have an unfettered right to intervene in any case where an Indian parent’s rights are being terminated. Those rights are unconstrained by any statute of limitation.

The case before the Court involves a child born in 2009 to a Caucasian woman and Indian father of the Cherokee Nation. The couple was never married, and the woman placed the child for adoption, with a married couple from South Carolina eventually adopting the baby girl.

Following adoption, the father requested a stay and brought suit in a South Carolina state court. The court held that, although state law terminated a father’s right for failure to provide pre-birth support or become involved with the child following firth, that law was trumped by the ICWA. The court ordered the child to be transferred to the father.

On appeal, that decision was upheld.

Now the matter is before the U.S. Supreme Court, with the central question being this: Does the ICWA terminate an after-the-fact adoption initiated by a non-Indian parent and effected pursuant to state law?

The Court will entertain that issue during oral arguments on April 16.

Source: Constitution Daily, “Supreme Court’s upcoming child-custody decision: The baby Veronica case,” Abigail Perkiss, March 4, 2013

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