United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

July 1, 2013

Benjamin Mallott – 907.274.3611


United States Supreme Court reversed and remanded Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl
Alaska Native community lauds court’s decision to uphold constitutionality of ICWA


Anchorage, AK – The United States Supreme Court kept the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) intact in its decision on Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, but reversed in part and remanded the case to the South Carolina courts based on a narrow interpretation of the language of the statute as applied to the facts of the case.

“Although we are disappointed that the child and two families do not yet have closure on the custody issue, we are happy that the constitutionality of ICWA is no longer in question”, said Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) President Julie Kitka.

ICWA was passed in 1978 in order to preserve the familial bonds between Indian parents and their children and the strength of Indian tribes.  It was passed at a time when large numbers of Indian children were being placed in non-Indian homes through adoption and foster care placement.

The case centered around Baby Veronica, now 3, who was put up for adoption by her biological mother without the father’s knowledge or consent.  The couple petitioning to adopt Baby Veronica is non-Indian, and had custody of her from the time of her birth.  The biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, objected to the adoption proceedings, because Baby Veronica is eligible for enrollment, ICWA came into play.

Under ICWA, there must be a showing that the continued custody of the child by the parent or Indian custodian would result in serious emotional or physical harm to the child, and that active efforts were made to prevent the breakup of an Indian family.  The state trial court ruled that the adoptive couple had not met these standards and awarded custody to the father, who has remained in custody throughout these proceedings.  The South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the decision.

In its 5-4 decision, the majority found that transfer of custody to a non-custodial unwed father did not conform to Congress’ purpose in enacting ICWA, which was to prevent the removal of Indian children from their families. Following this decision, the parties will again go before the state courts in South Carolina for a final custody determination.

AFN is pleased that the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of ICWA and would like to thank the Native American Rights Fund and its Tribal Supreme Court Project for their hard work and dedication in this case.


The Alaska Federation of Natives was formed in October 1966, when more than 400 Alaska Natives representing 17 Native organizations gathered for a three-day conference to address Alaska Native aboriginal land rights. It is now the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska. Its membership includes 178 villages (both federally-recognized tribes and village corporations), 13 regional Native corporations and 12 regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums that contract and run federal and state programs. AFN is governed by a 37-member Board, which is elected by its membership at the annual convention held each October. The mission of AFN is to enhance and promote the cultural, economic and political voice of the entire Alaska Native community. Learn more at www.nativefederation.org.