Today the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of granting custody of 3-year-old Veronica to the non-Indian couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina. Now the case will head back into South Carolina family courts, which will determine Veronica's placement. She has been living with her biological father, Dusten Brown, in Nowata, Oklahoma, since December 2011.
The case, formally known as Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is one of the most important Indian legal battles of the last generation, and the implications it may have on the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act are potentially devastating.
“It would undo [over] 35 years of work on the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Chrissi Nimmo, the counsel of record for the Cherokee Nation, told Indian Country Today Media Network in April 2013. “Any adverse decision would impact every tribe in the country. There’s no doubt.”
Prior to Veronica’s birth, Christina Maldonado, the non-Indian biological mother, had agreed to pre-adoptive placement with the Capobiancos without consulting Brown. The Capobiancos were never legally eligible to adopt Veronica, a member of the Cherokee Nation, and they paid Maldonado $10,000 and other expenses for Veronica.
In two courts, Brown successfully sued to regain custody of Veronica under the Indian Child Welfare Act. On December 28, 2011, the South Carolina Appellate Court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act trumped South Carolina state law, stating that the Brown family has a “deeply embedded relationship” with their Cherokee heritage. On July 26, 2012, a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling upheld the appellate court’s decision to give Brown full parental rights to Veronica.