In Baby Veronica case, high court got it right

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: June 27, 2013

IN the legal documentation that came before the U.S. Supreme Court, she is simply known as “Baby Girl.” That's where the simplicity ends.

At 3 years old, Veronica has been at the center of an adoption case so controversial that even after a ruling Tuesday from the nation's highest court, the toddler's fate isn't clear. Still, the court's decision in this high-stakes tug-of-war that has roots in Oklahoma was the right one and, we hope, will jump-start efforts to return the girl to her adoptive parents.

Every adoption case has its nuances. Veronica's case didn't initially appear to be unusually complicated. The mother and father, who were both living in Oklahoma, weren't married; the father had not even feigned interest. He offered no support for mother or baby and told the mother via text message before the baby's birth that he relinquished his rights. The mother, working through an adoption agency, selected a South Carolina couple to become the baby's adoptive parents. They attended the birth in Oklahoma.

It wasn't until the South Carolina couple pursued legal adoption proceedings in their home state that the father objected. In seeking custody of Veronica, he sought to use his family's American Indian heritage as a legal defense under the Indian Child Welfare Act. No matter that the claim was a bit of stretch — Veronica is 3/256th Cherokee — a South Carolina judge gave her to the biological dad she had never met. She was 27 months old.

Supreme Court justices voting with the majority this week saw through the manipulation of the act the father sought as his protection. The law was designed to make sure children of Indian descent weren't wrongly removed from their biological families based on “cultural insensitivity and biases.” That wasn't the case here, where justices pointed out that the father abandoned his daughter and never had custody.

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