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Supreme Court rules against Cherokee father in ICWA dispute





The U.S. Supreme Court today issued its highly-anticipated decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, an Indian Child Welfare Act case.

By a 5-4 vote, the justices determined that Dusten Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, never had custody of his biological daughter. Therefore, Section 1912 of ICWA does not prevent his parental rights from being terminated, the court ruled.

"[H]ere, the parent abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child," Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority that was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Stephen G. Breyer.

The court also noted that no other Cherokee relatives, or other Indian families, stepped forward to assert custody. So Section 1915 of ICWA does not apply either, the decision stated.

The ruling is a victory for a non-Indian couple that wants to adopt Brown's daughter. The case will be returned to South Carolina for further proceedings to determine whether the adoption can go forward over the objections of Brown and the Cherokee Nation.

Dissenting opinions came from Justices Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor's dissent was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan and, in part, by Scalia.

Supreme Court Decision:
Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (June 25, 2013)

Oral Argument Transcript:
Adoptive Couple v. Cherokee Nation (April 16, 2013)

South Carolina Supreme Court Decision:
Adoptive Couple v. Cherokee Nation (July 26, 2012)

Related Stories:
Supreme Court set to rule in Indian Child Welfare Act case (6/24)
NPR: Supreme Court to rule in Indian Child Welfare Act case (6/24)