The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t usually take on family law cases, but today it’s making an exception and hearing an adoption dispute over an American-Indian toddler named Veronica.
The fight centres on the Indian Child Welfare Act, which makes it more difficult to adopt Native American children. The ICWA tries to ensure Native American children stay with members of their tribe, and was enacted in 1978 after a century of the United States’ horrifying practice routinely taking Native American children away from their families.
Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, invoked the ICWA in January 2010 to stop South Carolina couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco from adopting his infant daughter, Veronica.
Brown had previously given up rights to Veronica. When the girl’s non-Native American mother, Christy Maldonado, was pregnant, Brown sent her a text message saying he didn’t want anything to do with the baby, according to the Capobiancos’ Supreme Court petition.
Maldonado then decided to give the girl to the Capobiancos, a couple she met and liked. It was after baby Veronica was born that Brown decided he wanted custody after all. A family court transferred custody of the girl to Brown when she was 2 years old, taking her away from the family that raised her for most of her life. The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the decision with a “heavy heart.”
The Capobiancos’ last chance to regain custody of Veronica lies with the Supreme Court. The high court will decide whether the ICWA can be used to stop an adoption that was initiated by a non-Native American parent.
The New York Times’ editorial board urged the Supreme Court to give the girl back to her adoptive family, noting South Carolina forbids a father from interfering with an adoption once he’s decided he doesn’t want to parent the child.
NPR’s Nina Totenberg points out that two justices have a special interest in the case: John Roberts and Clarence Thomas, who both have adopted children.
“The case before them and the other justices is a tragic saga,” she writes.
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