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U.S. Supreme Court takes up dispute over Native American adoption law -Breaking


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO : The U.S. Supreme Court appears after it was announced Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer would retire at the conclusion of this term in Washington, U.S.A, 26 January 2022. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to settle a dispute about decades-old federal requirements giving Native American families preference to adopt Native American children. This was in response to a lawsuit brought by a coalition of Texas non-Native adoptive parents and Texas.

Lower court rulings that declared key provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act 1978 unconstitutional will be reviewed by the justices. President Joe Biden’s Administration and several Native American tribes defend the law. This law aims at strengthening tribal connections by placing Native American kids with their families or in their community.

In 1978, the U.S. Congress approved the law to address concerns about child welfare practices that led to the removal of many Native American children from their parents through foster or adoption. This was usually done in non-Native American families. Native American advocacy organizations and tribes have claimed that child welfare laws help preserve Native American culture and families.

It established federal guidelines for placing children in foster care and adoption.

Three couples, Jennifer and Chad Brackeen and Nick and Heather Libretti and Jason and Danielle Clifford, sought to foster or adopt Native American children. Altagracia S. Hernandez was the biological Native American child adopted by the Librettis. The lawsuit was filed in Texas federal court, along with Indiana, Louisiana, and Texas.

Plaintiffs also claimed the statute was racially discriminatory against nonnative Americans. This violated the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment guarantee that equal protection is under the law. In 2018, a federal judge ruled in favor of both challengers.

Last April 16 U.S. Supreme Court judges sat on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shortened the ruling of the judge, but affirmed certain sections of the law invalidated by a majority or equally divided 8-8.

This ruling led to the filing of four appeals at the Supreme Court. These were filed by the Biden administration, four Native American tribes, to defend the law and Texas, as well as the adoptive family challenging some aspects.

According to federal papers, even though Native American children are now separated from their families more than any other child, it is still possible for them to be expelled.

Texas stated that the law requires the state to have a child custody system based on race. It also said that the “high numbers of Indian adoptions and foster children” are often an indication, not the reason, for the high risks of abuse, neglect, suicide, gang activity and violence among Indian children.

It is expected that the case will be heard at the end of October. A ruling should come by June 2023.

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