Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl: Why It's NOT About American Indian Rights

By Chris Hoenig


Lost in the maze of landmark Supreme Court decisions this week (affirmative action on Monday, voting rights on Tuesday, same-gender marriage on Wednesday) was a case that didn’t include anyone’s name: Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. In it, the justices ruled by a 5-to-4 margin to return a young girl to her adoptive parents in South Carolina, dismissing the legal claim of her biological father, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation.

The case centered on the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law passed in 1978 to prevent American Indian children from being taken from their homes and adopted by non-American Indian families. The claim by the biological father relies on generations of ancestry—the baby girl is 3/256ths Cherokee—in asking the court to apply the law and keep the girl with her father.

But the majority justices did not see this as a case of American Indian rights, but rather parental rights at large. The biological father had abandoned the baby’s mother during pregnancy, did not follow state guidelines for legal recognition as a parent (he had, in fact, renounced his custodial rights) and made no claim for parental status until the girl’s adoption was being finalized. Rather, the biological father had actually signed off on the adoption—he claimed due to a misunderstanding—which he would not have had to do if he wasn’t an American Indian.

In the opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court’s majority found that a noncustodial biological father with no legal parental rights (the court found that his claims to legal parental rights were unjustified) was trying to assert protections that the law afforded to custodial American Indian parents. “It would be absurd to think that Congress enacted a provision that permits termination of a custodial parent’s rights, while simultaneously prohibiting termination of a noncustodial parent’s rights,” the opinion states. “If the statute draws any distinction between custodial and noncustodial parents, that distinction surely does not provide greater protection for noncustodial parents.”

Further, the justices ruled that the purpose of the law was to prevent the unlawful breakup of American Indian families, but in this case, the “family” was not in existence to break up. “When an Indian parent abandons an Indian child prior to birth and that child has never been in the Indian parent’s legal or physical custody, there is no ‘relationship’ that would be ‘discontinu[ed]’—and no ‘effective entity’ that would be ‘end[ed]’—by the termination of the Indian parent’s rights.

“In such a situation, the ‘breakup of the Indian family’ has long since occurred.”

One of the men behind the law disagrees.

“It’s an attack on tribal sovereignty through the children. I can’t believe they did this,” retired Senator James Abourezk (D., S.D.) said.

Latest News

Hilton #3 on Best Places to Work List

Originally posted on Hilton  LinkedIn and Laura Fuentes (EVP & CHRO at Hilton) Today we are honored to be named #3 on the list of #WorldsBestWorkplaces by Fortune and Great Place to Work US. This recognition is an important reminder of the incredible power of our Hilton community, especially in these uniquely challenging times. As I step into…

Students Again Rank Abbott’s College Internship Program No. 1 in Healthcare Industry

Originally published on Abbott.com This summer, we were challenged to deliver a virtual summer internship program for our U.S. college interns that would enrich their professional experience while keeping them and our employees safe. Technology became the primary solution to our training, career development, and leadership interactions. Going beyond conference…

Cox Business and Henderson, Nevada Launch Energy Efficient Smart Lighting Project

Originally published on Cox.com Cox2M IoT Business Line of Cox Communications will Pilot New Lighting Controls The City of Henderson and Cox Communications have successfully deployed the first stage of their smart community collaboration, starting with energy efficient lighting management and controls. Cox2M, the IoT business line of Cox Communications, and the…

Diverse hads unite

More Work Needed For Corporate Diversity Programs; Fourteen Disability Groups Unite to Promote Voting; and More

Corporate diversity efforts still have a long way to go, new report finds. In a report conducted by the research firm Clutch, nearly half of employees surveyed said their company isn’t committed to creating a more diverse workplace and hasn’t successfully improved diversity within the last year. Researchers with Clutch…

San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge

San Francisco Declares War on Racism; People 55 and Older Face Historic Levels of Unemployment; and More.

San Francisco begins a citywide war on racism and discrimination. Known as the birthplace of the “Summer of Love” and the counterculture movement of the 1960s, San Francisco has long stood as a bastion of individuality and inclusion. And now the city is continuing that fight with the launch of…

portrait of Abraham Lincoln

Was Abraham Lincoln a Racist?

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s mention of Abraham Lincoln’s name during the third presidential debate on Thursday, Oct. 22, was one of the most memorable exchanges in the final presidential debate of 2020. It also caused Lincoln to become a trending topic over much of social media in the hours…