Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard testimony regarding the case titled Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which has come to be better known in the media as the Baby Veronica case.

The case involves the custody of a child of Hispanic, Caucasian and Native American descent, who was placed for adoption by her birth mother. Although the adoptive couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and Veronica’s birth mother Christinna Maldonado believe that Dusten Brown, the child’s birth father, was given proper notification of the adoption, he contested the adoption four months after placement and took custody of Veronica (then 27 months, now 3 and a half) in December 2011.

As a member of the Cherokee tribe, Brown is entitled to special parental rights to his daughter under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). ICWA was passed in 1978 after it was brought to the attention of Congress that as many as one-third  of Indian children were being forcibly removed from their homes and placed into foster care and with non-Indian families (according to an amicus brief submitted by former and current members of Congress). The law was passed to erect barriers to adoption outside the tribe, thus ensuring that Indian families were kept together and that Native American history and culture would be preserved for future generations.

By invoking his ICWA rights, Brown was able to contest the adoption four months after Veronica was born. Brown is a resident of Oklahoma, the state where Veronica was born, while the Capobiancos reside in South Carolina. A family court in South Carolina upheld Brown’s contestation before the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in October of last year.

According to an article on the case in The Atlantic:

“Cases like this are among the most difficult the justices ever have to decide. If you don’t believe me, ask Justice Antonin Scalia, who last fall cited an ICWA case from 1989 as one of his hardest in 27 years on the Supreme Court bench. They are difficult because there is only one child and two families seeking to raise her and thus no room for Solomon’s compromise.”

Jay McCarthy, an adoption attorney and ICWA expert based in Flagstaff, Arizona, told Reuters that he hoped the justices would go beyond questions of paternity to define the rights of children:

“The Indian Child Welfare Act, which grants individuals and tribes statutory rights, does not trump the child’s constitutional rights,” McCarthy said. “The case provides an excellent opportunity for the Supreme Court to finally, hopefully and at long last clarify: Does a child have a constitutional right to a secure and stable home? They’ve never reached that issue yet.”

American Adoptions has previously hosted McCarthy to educate our social work staff on the legal intricacies involved with ICWA. He will return again to further train our staff in July, which will be helpful as the ruling on Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is expected to be released in June of this year.

Although this is essentially a case about the custody of one little girl, news stories are quick to point out the precedent that the final ruling will place on adoptions involving Native American children. There are also bigger issues at play as well, including issues of federalism versus states’ rights in executing adoption law as it interacts with ICWA. In addition, some argue that this case is also about whether or not ICWA extends special treatment to Native American tribes as a political group or as a racial group, and whether that treatment is biased or places unfair or undue burden on other groups. All one can hope for is that the best interests of the child are considered as highly as the greater implications of the ruling.

To learn more about the specific details about the case and hearings, visit the following news sources:

To read more about ICWA and how American Adoptions handles ICWA adoption cases, visit our website to read The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and Adoption.