U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Indian Child Welfare Case

Written with Lyndley Schlepp

ICWAPictureTuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. This will be the second time the U.S. Supreme Court has heard a case on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) since the law’s enactment in 1978, and the decision is critically important for the sovereignty of Native American tribes. The ICWA provides statutory protections designed to protect tribal sovereignty through preserving Native American familial connections, ensuring the vitality of Native American culture, and reducing the rates of Native American children in out-of-home placement.

This case involves the custody of “Baby Girl” Veronica, who was given up for adoption by her unwed mother without the knowledge or consent of the child’s biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation who was serving in the U.S. military at the time of the adoption.  The adoptive couple had already taken the child to their home in South Carolina from Oklahoma when the father was informed of the adoption.  He immediately began the process of establishing paternity and filing for custody of the child.

Chrissi Nimo, Assistant Attorney General for the Cherokee Nation, said a negative decision from the Supreme Court “would be devastating for Indian children, but it would be devastating for tribes as well. There are bigger Indian law issues wrapped up in this case. A detrimental decision could call into question several other federal laws that deal with tribes as tribal organizations but also as Natives as individuals.”

Nebraska Appleseed supports the stance of the National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), the tribes in Nebraska, and the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA). You can read their amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court here.

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