Understanding the Recent SCOTUS Ruling on Native American Adoptions
Native American children are four times more likely to end up in foster care, so many adoptive families end up including Native American people. However, there are a lot of controversies around how these cases are handled. A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States has helped to clarify how certain adoption laws work.
Supreme Court Upholds Adoption Law Giving Native Americans Preference
In June 2023, the Supreme Court finally resolved an issue that has been hotly debated for several years. The case started in 2016 when a Texas family attempted to adopt a child they were fostering, but the child was eventually adopted by a Native American couple instead. This happened because of a 1978 law, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), that says Native American children will go to Native American adoptive families whenever possible. The ICWA was meant to address the historic issue of Native American children being taken from their families and prevented from learning Native American culture.
Because of the controversial situation, a lawsuit was filed by the state of Texas and three non-Native American families against the United States Department of the Interior. The plaintiffs said that the ICWA discriminates against non-Native Americans and that the federal government overstepped its bounds by creating a law that governs how adoptions work.
The Supreme Court voted 7-2 to uphold the ICWA. The justices based their ruling on several grounds including the plaintiffs’ lack of legal standing and the merits of the ICWA. They emphasized that tribal courts still have jurisdiction over Native children, and the federal government cannot disrupt this jurisdiction to make state adoption agencies place Native American children in non-Native homes.
Adoption Experts Weigh in on the Pros and Cons of the Ruling
The Supreme Court adoption ruling has been met with both praise and complaints. Native American advocacy groups have expressed joy that the ICWA and tribal rights were upheld. In a statement on the subject, the National Congress of American Indians said, “One thing is certain: ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) is crucial for the safety and well-being of Native children and families and the future of Native peoples and Tribal Nations.” They believe that this ruling will safeguard Native American children’s ability to grow up in their culture and remain connected to their tribes.
However, others are concerned that the ruling did not address the racial discrimination claims of the case. They feel that this ruling disregards other aspects of child welfare and focuses solely on the race of adoptive parents. In the dissenting opinions, Supreme Court justices mentioned that the racial discrimination claims could potentially be brought up again in future lawsuits about adopting a Native child.
Will This Ruling Affect Current Adoptions?
This court battle has been high-profile and very controversial, but it will only affect a few adoptions. The ICWA has never outright prohibited non-Native families from adopting Native children. Often, local tribal courts will approve cross-cultural adoptions, especially in cases where a New Jersey adoption attorney can show that the adoption will allow siblings to remain together. The number of non-Native foster parents and adoptive parents is much higher than Native ones, so cross-cultural adoptions remain common.
Furthermore, this ruling does not do much to affect Native American parents’ chances of adopting a child. Since the Supreme Court upheld current laws, nothing will change for Native Americans hoping to adopt. They will still be given preferences in cases where the state is looking for an adoptive family for a Native child. The only time that this ruling may cause issues for parents is if adoptive parents are non-Native and were hoping to adopt a child while there was also a Native couple interested in adopting that same child.
If you have any questions on this ruling or other adoption laws, Cofsky & Zeidman can help. Our New Jersey adoption attorney assists people throughout the regios. We help clients finalize adoptions, negotiate surrogacy arrangements, and more. To schedule your free consultation, call 856-429-5005 or email us today.