On Friday the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will review the 'Baby Veronica' adoption case.
The custody case pertains to a 3-year-old Cherokee girl born in Oklahoma in 2009 to an unwed couple, the non-Native Christina Maldonado and Dusten Brown, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. Without the father’s consent, Maldonado agreed to pre-adoptive placement. When Brown learned of the adoption, he immediately sought custody of Veronica, who was living with the adoptive couple, South Carolina residents Matt and Melanie Capobianco.
On December 28, 2011, the South Carolina Appellate Court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) trumped state law. On New Year’s Eve, Brown took his daughter home to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a neighboring city of the Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation.
The Capobiancos requested the state’s supreme court reconsider the case, and on July 26, the court upheld Veronica’s return, noting the family has “a deeply embedded relationship” with its heritage. On August 23, the court denied the couple’s appeal for a rehearing.
The attorney of the adoptive parents submitted a 142-page petition in October arguing the Supreme Court justices should rehear the case to clarify how the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act should be interpreted, according a White House blog.
“At issue in the case is the definition of ‘parent’ under the federal law, including whether that includes an unwed father who only belatedly claimed parental rights,” the blog states.
The highly publicized custody battle has been hotly debated on CNN and the Dr. Phil Show, which the National Indian Child Welfare Association criticized as heavily slanted toward the Capobiancos’ recounting of the situation and misrepresenting of both her loving, biological father and the ICWA.
An Indian adoption case testing the strength of the ICWA has been reviewed only once previously by the highest court. In 1989, the US. Supreme Court sided with Mississippi’s Choctaw tribe, which challenged an adoption of twins. In a recent TV interview with Charlie Rose, Justice Antonin Scalia said that case has been the most challenging decision he has made in his more than two decades of serving on the Supreme Court.
“I found that very hard. But that’s what the law said, without a doubt,” Justice Scalia said.