NEW ORLEANS (AP) – A federal appeals court has upheld the constitutionality of a 1978 law giving preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings involving American Indian children.
Friday’s decision by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal upholds the Indian Child Welfare Act and reverses a Texas-based federal judge.
It comes in a case involving non-Indian families in multiple states who adopted or sought to adopt Native American children.
Opponents of the law called it an unconstitutional race-based intrusion on states’ powers to govern adoptions.
In October 2018, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor found that the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 illegally gives Native American families preferential treatment in adoption proceedings for Native American children based on race. He says that is a violation of the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee.
But the 5th Circuit majority disagreed, saying the law’s definition of an “Indian child” is a political classification.
The decision was a victory for supporters of the law who say it’s needed to protect and preserve Native American culture and families.
It is a law that has created headlines across Oklahoma following a very public adoption battle.
In 2013, all eyes were turned to the courts as judges decided the fate of a little girl nicknamed “Baby Veronica.”
Baby Veronica was put up for adoption by her mother after she says Veronica’s father signed away his parental rights.
“He let me know that he wanted to sign his rights away and that he had spoken to his family and they all agreed that that’s what would be best for him if that’s what he did,” Christy Maldonado said in 2013.
Maldonado said she chose a South Carolina couple to adopt her daughter.
After the Capobiancos legally adopted Veronica, her biological father, Dusten Brown, challenged the adoption.
Even though she lived with the couple for more than two years, the matter had to be decided by the court.
Veronica’s biological father used his status as a Cherokee Indian to challenge the adoption to try to get his daughter back two years after her adoption to the non-Native American couple from South Carolina.
The Cherokee Nation argued that she was protected under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. According to the Indian Child Welfare Act, as long as the tribe considers you a member they have a voice in your adoption.
Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Veronica should be sent to live with the Capobiancos in South Carolina.