Matthew Cuellar, a citizen of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, and his wife, Sharne Cuellar, were killed in a December 17, 2015, accident in California. Their three children are now the subject of an Indian Child Welfare Act dispute. Family photo

Indian Child Welfare Act under attack again as conservative group submits appeal to Supreme Court

The conservative Goldwater Institute is attacking the Indian Child Welfare Act again.

The group has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an ICWA case from California. The petition in Renteria v. Superior Court of California, Tulare County claims the 1978 law is based on "race" and should be deemed unconstitutional.

"To understand what is at stake here, consider the rules ICWA imposes on cases involving Indian children—and how those rules differ from state law standards" the November 27 petition reads. "Compared to California’s race-neutral law of child welfare, ICWA’s rules provide children with less protection and make it harder to find them the safe, loving adoptive homes they need."

The case comes in a custody dispute over three girls whose parents were killed in a December 2015 crash. The girls' father, Matthew Cuellar, was a citizen of the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians, The Fresno Bee reported.

The tribe asserted jurisdiction over the placement of the children but non-Indian relatives of the girls sought custody instead. In February, a judge in California agreed that ICWA applied to the case.

"It is undisputed that father here was a member of an Indian tribe. It is also undisputed that the children are members of a tribe or eligible to be members of a tribe," Judge Nathan D. Ide wrote in the order.

"Finally, there is no dispute that father maintained contact and custody of the children from birth until his untimely death," Ide continued.

Efrim and Talisha Renteria, who have set up a "tribalpredator" website that attempts to associate the tribe with violence and crime, appealed the order but were rebuffed. That's when the Goldwater Institute, which has attacked ICWA in other courts around the nation, jumped in with the Supreme Court petition.

Those efforts have been largely unsuccessful. But the tribe will still have to answer to the petition -- a response is due December 29, according to Docket No. 17-789.

In addition to seeking custody of the girls, the Renterias are claiming the children are not Miwok. They cite DNA tests that allegedly showed the girls had "Taino" and "Cherokee" blood, The Bee reported.

The Renterias are also claiming to have "Apache," "Blackfoot" and "Taino" blood, the paper said. They previously told they paper they are "American Indian" by blood.

The Supreme Court's last ICWA case was Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. By a 5 to 4 vote, the justices held that the law did not apply to the case of a child from the Cherokee Nation because they said the Cherokee father never had custody.

The Renterias relied heavily on the June 2013 ruling but Judge Ide said the situation involving the Shingle Springs girls and their father was different.

Read More on the Story:
Tribe fighting for custody of orphaned children might be Hawaiian, court papers say (The Fresno Bee December 8, 2017)

Federal Register Notices for Indian Child Welfare Act:
Indian Child Welfare Act; Designated Tribal Agents for Service of Notice (March 8, 2017)
Indian Child Welfare Act Proceedings (June 14, 2016)
Regulations for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (March 30, 2015)
Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings (February 25, 2015)

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