South Carolina's highest court on Wednesday ruled that "Baby Veronica," the 3-year-old central figure in a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Indian Child Welfare Act, should be returned to the white couple that agreed to adopt her before her birth, and not her Native American father, who later claimed his parental rights.
Two years ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court had said that the 1978 federal law required that the young girl be removed from her adoptive parents — Matt and Melanie Capobianco — and sent to live with her biological father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation living in Oklahoma.
But Wednesday, it reversed itself, citing direction from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Scotusblog's Lyle Denniston summarized the ruling.
"Using the authority that the Supreme Court gave it three weeks ago, South Carolina's Supreme Court on Wednesday moved to put an end to a deeply emotional dispute over the custody of a child by ordering that she become a part of the family that fought to have her returned after eighteen months living with her father, a Cherokee Indian. In a three-to-two decision, the state court sent the case back to a family court with instructions to move swiftly to finalize the rights of the 'adoptive couple' to the child known as 'Baby Veronica.' She will be four on September 15."
Last month, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act did not protect Brown's parental rights because he "abandoned the [American] Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child."
In April, NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg summed up the emotional case this way:
"Take the usual agony of an adoption dispute. Add in the disgraceful U.S. history of ripping Indian children from their Native American families. Mix in a dose of initial fatherly abandonment. And there you have it — a poisonous and painful legal cocktail that goes before the U.S. Supreme Court."