U.S. Supreme Court Issues Opinion in Indian Child Welfare Act Case

supreme_court_buildingLast week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 5-4 decision in the case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. This marks only the second time the U.S. Supreme Court has heard a case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) since the law’s enactment in 1978.

The opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, focuses on the applicability of the ICWA to a biological father who is a member of the Cherokee Nation. The majority’s opinion is narrowly tailored to the facts of the case in which a father fought for custody of his daughter after the child’s biological mother relinquished her parental rights and gave the child up for adoption to another couple.

The Supreme Court determined the father was not considered a parent for purposes of the Indian Child Welfare Act, in the context of a private adoption, when the child was not previously in his physical or legal custody and the father did not contribute to the care of the child. However, the Supreme Court affirmatively chose not to overrule the ICWA and chose not adopt a more restrictive view of the ICWA as proposed by Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion.  The custody issue has been remanded back to and will be decided by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

If you are interested in learning more about the Supreme Court’s ruling, please see the summary of the opinion drafted by the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA) and National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) here or a summary by the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) here.

Listen to this Radiolab podcast on the Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl case.


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