Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl: Information and Resources
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Executive Communications Manager
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- Amicus briefs in support of Brown Family include US Solicitor General, 19 states, and broad coalition of supporters
- Summary of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
- Questions before the U.S. Supreme Court
- Fact checking media coverage
- Take Action-Things You Can Do
- Select Media Coverage
- South Carolina Supreme Court decision
- U.S. Supreme Court case tracker
- Case timeline
- Advocacy Alert
- Reference Matrix
- NCAI Resolution for the Protection of the Indian Child Welfare Act
NICWA remains committed helping the public understand the complexities of the Indian Child Welfare Act and its application today. Therefore, we have compiled the following information and resources regarding the Baby Veronica case.
The case involves a Cherokee girl, her American Indian father, mixed-race mother, and a non-Indian prospective adoptive couple. Veronica’s father and mother were engaged when she was conceived, but her mother broke off the engagement while the father, Dusten Brown, was serving in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Unbeknownst to Brown, she began the process of placing her child up for adoption.
In the final months of pregnancy, the mother cut off all communication with Brown and worked closely with an agency and attorney to adopt the child to a non-Indian couple from South Carolina, the Capobiancos. Brown was not informed of Veronica’s birth on September 15, 2009. Veronica was placed with the Capobiancos three days after her birth in Oklahoma, and they relocated her to South Carolina shortly thereafter.
Four months later, the couple finally served Brown with notice of their intent to adopt Veronica. Immediately, he went to court to request a stay of the adoption until after his deployment (which, because of his military status, is provided for by federal law). He also began the legal steps to establish paternity and gain custody. He was then deployed to Iraq. Because the Capobiancos waited until just days before Brown was deployed, the adoption hearing was not completed until he returned home.
At this hearing, the South Carolina Family Court denied the Capobiancos’ petition to adopt and ordered Veronica’s transfer to her father. The court found that ICWA applied and was not an unconstitutional law, that Brown had acknowledged and established paternity, and that an exception to ICWA called the “Existing Indian Family Exception” (EIFE) was inapplicable to ICWA and therefore the case. Most decisively, it found that Brown had not voluntarily consented to the termination of his parental rights or the adoption, and that Veronica’s placement with him would not result in serious emotional or physical damage.
Since then, the Capobiancos appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals to stay the transfer of custody, where they lost. They then appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court, which upheld the family court’s decision. Last October, they asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. In early January, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted review.
In accepting review, the Court will consider two questions:
- Should ICWA be interpreted to include the Existing Indian Family Exception? EIFE posits that ICWA was designed only to prevent the breakup of existing Indian families where a state court determines if the child, but for the adoption, would have grown up with strong ties to tribal culture.
- Does ICWA’s definition of “parent” require unwed fathers to meet state law requirements to establish and acknowledge paternity or consent to an adoption?
Additionally, the Court is also being asked to weigh in on the constitutionality of ICWA itself.
Extensive media coverage of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl has included many inacuracies. Whether misinformation has been repeated inadvertently, or as part of coverage which includes myriad opinions, NICWA has checked some of these recurring assertions here.
NICWA is workingly closely with attorneys for "Baby Girl" and the Cherokee Nation, as well as collaborating with the Tribal Supreme Court Project—a partnership between the Native American Rights Fund and the National Congress of American Indians—on legal, community engagement, and communications strategies for this case. To support our efforts, here are some urgent steps you can take.
- Contact your tribal leadership immediately and ask that they approach the media proactively to communicate the history of Indian child welfare before ICWA, the true impact of ICWA in tribal communities today, and implications of what removing the protections afforded by ICWA would mean for Native families. Tribes hold a unique perspective that has not been included in media coverage of this case.
- Educate the public and media on the facts of this case. Direct them to this webpage. Hold individual reporters accountable if they continue to perpetuate inaccuracies.
- Donate to NICWA. Our legal, advocacy, communications, and outreach work on this case will cost the organization hundrends of thousands of dollars that was not previously included in our operational budget. We are committed to this work, but we need support from individuals and others to offset these necessary costs.
- Consider becoming a foster parent. Whatever the outcome of this case, there will continue to be an overwhelming need for Native foster parents who can provide loving homes for American Indian and Alaska Native children in the child welfare system. NICWA encourages all of its supporters to join our efforts to recruit new families to become foster homes for Indian children.
April 12, 2013 Indian Affairs, Adoption, and Race: The Baby Veronica Case Comes to Washington by Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic
April 11, 2013 Q&A With Cherokee Counsel for Baby Veronica Case: The Supreme Court Decision Will Impact Every Tribe in the Country by Brian Daffron, Indian Country Today
April 9, 2013 Tribal group urges Supreme Court to uphold Indian Child Welfare Act by Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton, Tulsa World
April 9, 2013 U.S. Supreme Court hears "Baby Veronica" case next week by Adam Paluka, FOX23
April 9, 2013 Native America Calling dedicates show to Veronica case
April 8, 2013 Baby Veronica Case to go to Supreme Court, KTUL News 8, Tulsa
April 5, 2013 NICWA'S Terry Cross: Misdirected Blame
March 29, 2013 NICWA's Terry Cross: In Defense of Dusten Brown
March 18, 2013 Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl by Margaret Ryznar, HuffingtonPost.com
January 26, 2013 Focusing on Preserving Heritage Can Limit Foster Care for Indians by Daniel Frosch, New York Times
January 24, 2013 Adoptive Parents vs. Tribal Rights: A New York Times Room for Debate featuring Terry Cross, Matthew Fletcher, Solangel Maldanado, Marcia Zug, Joan Hollinger, and Megan Lindsey
January 20, 2013 US High Court taking American Indian adoption caseby Meg Kinnard, Associated Press
January 14, 2013 Case may shape Native American adoptions by John Hult, Argus Leader
January 13, 2013 Media failures lead to flawed understandings in Cherokee adoption case by Michael Corcoran, Truthout.org
January 13, 2013 Veronica could make history by Glenn Smith, The Post and Courier
December 24, 2012 NYT Covers Veronica case
November 13, 2012 NICWA fact checks Dr. Phil
October 20, 2012 NICWA responds to Dr. Phil
September 18, 2012 U.S. Supreme Court could hear "Save Veronica" case Fox23 News, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Summer 2012 Case highlights failure to follow ICWA dictates by Joe Kroll, executive director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children, Adoptalk.
August 23, 2012 Doing what's best for the tribe by Marcia Zug, Slate.com.
July 27, 2012 NICWA responds to South Carolina decision
July 20, 2012 Full compliance with Indian Child Welfare Act, not its dismantling, is needed Op-ed by Terry Cross, NICWA executive director, The Oklahoman.