This week, the Supreme Court issued their ruling on the case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, better known in the media as the Baby Veronica case. The adoption of Baby Veronica leading up to the ruling was complicated by her Native American heritage and the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

You can read up on ICWA and the events and litigation leading up to the Supreme Court ruling in our blog post ICWA Adoption Case Making Headlines at the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the adoptive couple in a 5-4 vote. The opinion, delivered by Justice Alito, was narrowly written to say that although ICWA does not apply to this case, the Act should not be undermined across the board. The case has now been essentially reduced to a custody battle between the adoptive couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and her birth father, Dusten Brown, and will be sent back to the South Carolina Supreme Court for a final ruling.

In his opinion, Alito indicated that the Indian Child Welfare Act does not apply to this case because ICWA protects Indian families whose “continued custody of the child” would be disrupted by an adoption. Since Brown was not involved with Veronica or her birth mother during the pregnancy or for the first four months after she was born, the court says this does not apply.

“A biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother – perhaps contributing to the mother’s decision to put the child up for adoption – and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interests,” Alito said in his opinion. “If this were possible, many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA.”

Alito also added that ICWA does not “bar a non-Indian family like Adoptive Couple from adopting an Indian child when no other eligible candidates have sought to adopt the child.”

As with all Supreme Court cases, the ruling comes with a majority opinion as well as a minority dissent. Justice Sotomayor, who wrote the case’s dissent, pointed out that the court’s ruling doesn’t automatically mean that Veronica will not go back to her adoptive parents. It will be up to South Carolina’s Supreme Court to decide if, under ICWA, Brown and/or his extended family still has a say in the decision.

Baby Veronica was 27 months old when she was removed from the Capobiancos custody in South Carolina, where she had been since birth, to the home of Brown in Oklahoma. It has been another year and a half since that time, and the final ruling could uproot the young girl to her previous home again. The South Carolina Supreme Court will have to decide whether Brown acted properly to assert his rights under the state’s laws and what is now in the best interests of the child.

To learn more about this case, visit the following sources:

Next month, American Adoptions will be hosting ICWA expert and adoption attorney Jay McCarthy to discuss the practical implications of this case for adoption professionals. We look forward to his visit.

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.

And be sure to check back on our blog, as we’ll be posting updates to this case as they occur in the South Carolina Supreme Court.