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Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: June 25, 2013
Case #: 12-399
Alito, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., and Breyer, J., filed concurring opinions. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Ginsburg and Kagan, JJ., joined, and in which Scalia, J., joined in part.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-399_8mj8.pdf

Indian Law: Under the the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), neither §1912(f) nor §1912(d) bars the termination of parental rights.

Baby Girl was born in 2009. The biological father (Father), a member of the an Indian tribe, gave up parental rights to the non-Indian mother (Mother). Mother put the child up for adoption and Petitioner showed interest. When Father learned of the pending adoption he objected to it. The family court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), 25 U.S.C. § 1901 barred the adoption.  

Petitioner appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court and argued Father did not fall within the definition of “parent” under ICWA §1903(9) because he was not married to Mother and did not acknowledge or establish paternity to the satisfaction of state law.  However, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the family court and held Father was a “parent” because he acknowledged paternity by engaging in court proceedings and had submitted to a DNA test.

The United States Supreme Court held that the ICWA was not designed to apply to the circumstances presented by this case. Where the adoption of an Indian child is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights. The ICWA’s primary goal of preventing the unwarranted removal of Indian children and the dissolution of Indian families. It would be unusual to hold the applicable ICWA section to apply in the context of an Indian parent who abandoned a child prior to birth and who never had custody of the child. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of the South Carolina Supreme Court and remanded for further proceedings.