Following an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling, the youngster has been handed over to adoptive couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco, which most likely spells an end to the legal ordeal [CNN, earlier]
Meanwhile, in yet another indication that propositions that are controversial in the rest of the country are uncontroversial in the American Bar Association, the ABA last month endorsed a resolution (PDF) calling for “full compliance” with, and in general uncritically endorsing the operation of, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978; reportedly, no dissenting voice was raised.
The New Republic, meanwhile, gives favorable ink to what it calls the “new anti-adoption movement.” While adoption poses plenty of genuine and difficult ethical and policy issues that deserve a full airing (and even the occasional train wreck at its far fringes; reactions here (PDF), here) sloganeering about “reproductive justice” and intimations of false consciousness (“subtle brainwashing”) on the part of birthmothers who choose adoptive homes for their children are likely to obscure the good that adoption can do [Balding/Yan, SSRN via @tylercowen]
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, who is also a University of Arizona law professor, weighs in on the tribal side in Baby Veronica case [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations, earlier] Last year we discussed Mr. Anaya’s scolding of the U.S. government on Indian land claim issues. Just last week another official in the U.N. human rights apparatus upbraided the United States for hesitating to expose acquitted George Zimmerman to double jeopardy in the Trayvon Martin shooting.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling, birthdad Dusten Brown says he “will not voluntarily” return Baby Veronica to adoptive couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and the Cherokee tribe has unfortunately given encouragement to his stance [Tulsa World, Michael Schearer, SCOTUSBlog (high court refuses to block adoption)] “Before the hearing [in Tahlequah, Okla.], Cherokee County sheriff’s officials ordered a Tulsa World reporter to leave the third floor of the courthouse, where the hearing was to be held. The Sheriff’s Office then closed the entire courthouse to reporters, yet members of the public were allowed access to the building.” [Tulsa World] Following threats of arrest and pressure from the governor of Oklahoma, Brown has now entered mediation with the Capobiancos [Tulsa World, more coverage]
Meanwhile, although defenders of the Indian Child Welfare Act have tended to applaud its elevation of tribal interests over the best interests of actual children, the Native American Rights Fund, revealing a newfound enthusiasm for the latter, has filed a suit purportedly on Veronica’s behalf arguing that her best interests are not being taken into account in the adoption. And the girl’s biological mother, Christy Maldonado, has announced plans to file a suit asking for parts of the Indian Child Welfare Act to be struck down as unconstitutional. [Associated Press/WCIV, Indian Country Today]
P.S. I do not rush to blame Mr. Brown, who, even if erring, is erring as many of the rest of us would. I do blame the Cherokee authorities, Native American Rights Fund, and others for irresponsibly egging him on as they stake out a maximalist position on behalf of a bad law.
Yesterday, in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the Supreme Court dodged the constitutional flaws of the Indian Child Welfare Act, instead choosing to rely on statutory interpretation to reverse a lower court’s troubling decision. The very first sentence of Justice Alito’s majority opinion hints at one of the underlying constitutional difficulties with ICWA, its assignment of family-law entitlements by race: “This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.” Justice Thomas’s important concurrence points to another reason to doubt the statute’s constitutionality—its ouster of state courts from their traditional supremacy in family law, based on sources of federal authority (such as the Indian Commerce Clause) that have never been recognized as supporting such ouster.
Justice Sotomayor’s dissent has some force in arguing that the majority is departing from the most natural reading of ICWA’s text, as well as Congress’s likely intent, and in particular that it may be casting doubt on some rights of biological, noncustodial Indian fathers that Congress may have intended the law to protect. As Justice Thomas rightly argues, however, today’s ruling makes sense in light of the doctrine of constitutional avoidance, in which the Court construes doubtful laws so as to avoid possible unconstitutionality. Eventually, if not in this case, ICWA’s constitutional difficulties will be back before the Court in a form it can’t evade. My April coverage of the case in Reason is here; background at SCOTUSBlog, RadioLab. [cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]
P.S. Feelings run high on both sides of the Baby Veronica controversy. The Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare has backed the Adoptive Couple side and seeks reform of ICWA. By contrast, talk show personality Melissa Harris-Perry recently described adoption by non-Indians of kids with Indian blood as “transnational baby-snatching” [MSNBC, at 2:27] Another opposed view: Steve Russell, Indian Country Today ["The enemies of Indian sovereignty understand the 14th Amendment equal protection clause to be their friend."]
He signed his unwed-dad rights away by text message — then, when the girl was more than two years old, the baldly race-based Indian Child Welfare Act got them back for him. Today the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, otherwise known as the Baby Veronica case. [Washington Post, Michael Schearer, earlier here, here]