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Supreme Court rules against Oklahoma man in Cherokee adoption case

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a law intended to keep Indian families together doesn't automatically give custody to a Cherokee father in Oklahoma. His 3-year-old daughter was adopted by a South Carolina couple at her birth.
by Chris Casteel Modified: June 25, 2013 at 7:50 pm •  Published: June 25, 2013

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the South Carolina court's interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare Act “would put certain vulnerable children at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor — even a remote one — was an Indian.”

A biological Indian father “could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother — perhaps contributing to the mother's decision to put the child up for adoption — and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother's decision and the child's best interests,” the court said.

No statement from Brown was available on Tuesday.

Four justices dissent

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the dissenting opinion that the majority decision distorted the federal law by reading the phrase “continued custody” too literally and out of context with the intent of the law.

The ruling against the Cherokee father, she wrote, “ignores Congress' purpose in order to rectify a perceived wrong that, while heartbreaking at the time, was a correct application of federal law and that in any case cannot be undone.

“Baby Girl has now resided with her father for 18 months. However difficult it must have been for her to leave Adoptive Couple's home when she was just over 2 years old, it will be equally devastating now if, at the age of 3½, she is again removed from her home and sent to live halfway across the country.

“Such a fate is not foreordained, of course. But it can be said with certainty that the anguish this case has caused will only be compounded by today's decision.”

Christy Maldonado, the birth mother, said in a statement, “The Supreme Court has clarified that the Indian Child Welfare Act does not apply to this case, and other cases like this one, where a biological father had no interest in fatherhood before the child's birth, and a single mother like me has made the difficult and personal decision that it's in her child's best interest to be placed with a loving adoptive family.”

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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