On Thursday, June 15, 2023, the Supreme Court released their opinion in Haaland v. Brackeen and Indian tribes across the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.
All thanks to a US Supreme Court 7-2 vote, affirming to keep the law intact and continuing to protect Indian children as well as the adoption laws surrounding their well-being.
Since its inception in 1978, ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) has been the benchmark when it comes to choosing a family with which an adopted Indian child can be placed. Prior to that, throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s it had become customary for Indian children to be adopted out to non-Indian families, essentially cutting all ties to their tribes.
In addition, in many of these cases, children were forcibly removed from their homes. By establishing ICWA, this ongoing government abuse was halted and the lives of Indian children were forever changed.
Once ICWA was enacted, Indian children were granted protection against such cruel practices. And they have remained protected, that is, up until recently when a series of events brought the constitutionality of the act into question and the spotlight on an act that had served to protect so many families. By questioning the Act’s constitutionality the safety and the lives of Indian children were once again threatened. And tribal sovereignty was questioned!
In recent years, it hasn’t really been smooth sailing for this groundbreaking act as many anti-tribal interests have challenged the act. Most recently, back in 2018, in Haaland v. Brackeen, a lawsuit brought by a Texas district court, alleged that ICWA was unconstitutional. This case made its way through the lower courts. And, in 2019, a three-judge panel reversed the district court’s decision. The court’s decision upheld the constitutionality of ICWA. This was considered a victory for the law. But only a few short months later, the Fifth Circuit agreed to a review of the decision and that’s when things got shaky again.
Two years later, on June 15, 2023, a lengthy decision of the review was released and in it, ICWA was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. This most recent decision by the US Supreme Court, also notably included a detailed technical opinion from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who coincidentally has 2 adopted children of her own.
Indian children will remain protected thanks to the US Supreme Court's recent affirmation and ruling. In short, the rights of native children throughout the adoption process, along with tribes, will retain their freedom to be sovereign for as long as they wish. This landmark decision is a significant win for tribes across the nation.
President Biden expressed his support for the Supreme Court's decision and its commitment to continuing to uphold the sovereignty and protection of native children.
Read on to learn how future Supreme Court decisions will impact tribes.