Supreme Court Review 2014/2015 TERM
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27, 2014
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Issue:  Indian Child Welfare Act

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

12-399

QUESTION(S) PRESENTED

The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-63, applies to state custody proceedings involving an Indian child. A dozen state courts of last resort are openly and intractably divided on two critical questions involving the administration of ICWA in thousands of custody disputes each year:

(1) Whether a non-custodial parent can invoke ICWA to block an adoption voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent under state law.

(2) Whether ICWA defines “parent” in 25 U.S.C. § 1903(9) to include an unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.

DECISION

Decided June 25, 2013 HOLDING

Contrary to the State Supreme Court’s ruling, we hold that 25 U. S. C. §1912(f )—which bars involuntary termination of a parent’s rights in the absence of a heightened showing that serious harm to the Indian child is likely to result from the parent’s “continued custody” of the child—does not apply when, as here, the relevant parent never had custody of the child. We further hold that §1912(d)—which conditions involuntary termination of parental rights with respect to an Indian child on a showing that remedial efforts have been made to prevent the “break up of the Indian family”—is inapplicable when, as here, the parent abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child. Finally, we clarify that §1915(a),which provides placement preferences for the adoption of Indian children, does not bar a non-Indian family like Adoptive Couple from adopting an Indian child when no other eligible candidates have sought to adopt the child.We accordingly reverse the South Carolina Supreme Court’s judgment and remand for further proceedings.

ALITO, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, THOMAS, and BREYER, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and BREY-ER, J., filed concurring opinions. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which GINSBURG and KA-GAN, JJ., joined, and in which SCALIA, J., joined in part.

Text of Opinion
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ORAL ARGUMENT

Argued April 16, 2013

Appearences
On Behalf of Petitioners ADOPTIVE COUPLE
LISA S. BLATT, ESQ.
On Behalf of Petitioners Respondent Guardian ad Litem in support of Petitioners
PAUL D. CLEMENT, ESQ.
On Behalf of Respondents Birth Father, et al.
CHARLES A. ROTHFELD, ESQ.
On Behalf of United States as amicus curiae, supporting Respondents
EDWIN S. KNEEDLER, ESQ., Deputy Solicitor General
Transcript
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ARTICLES DISCUSSED IN PODCAST
Audio
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multimedia viewer (external site)
Merit Briefs
Brief for Adoptive Couple (Petitioner) (pdf download)
Brief for Baby Girl (Respondent) (pdf download)
Brief for Birth Father (pdf download)
Reply Brief for Adoptive Couple (pdf download)
Reply Brief Guardian ad Litem, as representative of respondent Baby Girl (pdf download)
Amicus Curiae Briefs
Amicus Brief of Birth Mother supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of United States supporting affirmance (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Professors Joan Heifetz Hollinger, et al. supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of American Academy of Adoption Attorneys supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of National Council for Adoption supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Child Advocacy Organizations supporting supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Bonnie and Shannon Hofer, et al. supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Adoptive Parents Committee, Inc. supporting petitioners (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Cherokee Nation supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Professors of Indian Law supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Hamline University School of Law Child Advocacy Clinic supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Honorable Abby Abinanti, Chief Justice of the Yurok Tribal Court supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Seminole Tribe of Florida, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of National Latina/o Psychological Association, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Lower Sioux Indian Community, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Friends Committee on National Legislation, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Current and Former Members of Congress supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Casey Family Programs, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Association of American Indian Affairs, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Family Law professors supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Association supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Arizona, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Minnesota Department of Human Services and Minnesota Ombudsperson for American Indian Families supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Wisconsin Tribes supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of 63 California Indian Tribes supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of National Native American Bar Association supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Tanana Chiefs Conference, et al. supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of Adult Pre-ICWA Indian Adoptees supporting respondents (pdf download)
Amicus Brief of American Civil Liberties Union, and ACLU of South Carolina supporting respondents (pdf download)

PROCEEDING BELOW

Supreme Court of South Carolina
Decided July 26, 2012
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SUPREME PODCAST COVERAGE

DATE TITLE CASE STAGE LISTEN NOW
2013-04-20 This Week at the United States Supreme Court Oral Argument go to coverage
2013-06-25 Decision - Indian Child Welfare Act - Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl Opinion go to coverage