WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Tuesday quashed a court decision that ordered a couple to hand over a girl they had raised since birth to her biological father because he is a Native American.
In an emotionally wrenching case, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Matt and Melanie Capobianco, who adopted a girl they named Veronica and cared for her until South Carolina granted her father custody in 2011.
Dusten Brown, the girl’s father and a member of the Cherokee Nation, had agreed to adoption during the pregnancy before later changing his mind and launching a legal bid for custody.
Brown sought to regain custody of his biological daughter under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, legislation that had been set out to prevent Native American children from being separated from their families.
However, Justice Samuel Alito said that the legislation should not offer blanket protection to biological parents like Brown.
“Under the State Supreme Court’s reading, a biological Indian father could abandon his child in utero and refuse any support for the birth mother . . . and then could play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interests,” Alito wrote.
“If this were possible, many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA.”
The Supreme Court did not grant custody of Veronica, now 3, to the Capobiancos but instead sent the case back to South Carolina’s courts for further hearings.