Can a Native American father get custody of his daughter after she’s been adopted?
That’s the basic question in front of the U.S. Supreme Court when it hears the so-called Baby Veronica case. As Abigail Perkiss reports for the National Constitution Center, the case focuses on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).
Under the ICWA, can the father intervene in an adoption that’s already taken place?
The ICWA gives Native American tribal governments the exclusive right to handle child custody cases involving Native American children, if the child lives on a reservation, as well as the right to be involved when the child doesn’t live on a reservation.
In the Baby Veronica case, the mother (not a Native American) became pregnant and had a child with a member of a Native American tribe. The two seemed to be headed toward marriage, at least at one point in time, but the mother ended the relationship and put the child up for adoption.
This occurred while the tribal member, Dusten Brown, was away serving in the U.S. Army. Brown claims not to have given his consent to the adoption, contrary to what legal papers from his ex-fiancé claimed, and now contests the adoption and the termination of parental rights under the ICWA.
As Perkiss writes, the Baby Veronica case could set an important precedent under the ICWA. If the child is returned to her biological father, even though the adoption was alleged to be “voluntarily and lawfully carried out under state law,” it would appear to be a victory for the rights of Native Americans in child custody cases – proving that the ICWA has some pretty broad power.