SCOTUS to rule in Baby Veronica case by midsummer

Arguments heard in Baby Veronica custody case
Baby Veronica at 2-years-old
Baby Veronica at 2-years-old
Veronica and her biological father, Dusten Brown.
Veronica and her biological father, Dusten Brown.
Veronica and her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.
Veronica and her adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco.

WASHINGTON, DC (WCSC) - After listening to an hour and a half of oral arguments, Supreme Court justices officially submitted Baby Veronica custody case hearing at the national level. Now it's a waiting game as SCOTUS will take three months to decide with whom the 3-year-old belongs.

The battle for Baby Veronica focused on the definition of a 'parent' under a federal law enacted in 1978 to protect Indian families.

The focal point of the arguments between representatives of Veronica's adoptive parents and her biological father focused on whether her father was a "parent" according to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

The passionate hearing lasted roughly an hour and a half. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in June.

"It was tough, it's intense," said Jessica Munday, a supporter of Veronica's adoptive parents. "It's been a very difficult and emotional journey."

The journey reached the home stretch Tuesday in front of nine Supreme Court justices.

Three main questions are in need of answers to correctly rule on the case. First, justices have to decide whether Dusten Brown, Veronica's biological father, is a "parent" under ICWA. Second, does ICWA apply only when there is an existing family? Third, is ICWA constitutional?

The Cherokee Nation says the importance of ICWA, enacted in 1978, is straight forward.

Representatives of the Cherokee Nation say "without members, a Tribe ceases to exist... ICWA seeks to protect the rights of the Indian child as an Indian and the rights of the Indian community and tribe in retaining its children in society."

According to court documents, in the early 1970's 'experts estimated that 25% to 35% of all Indian children had been separated from their families and placed in adoptive families, foster care or institutions.'

ICWA was a law designed to allow Tribe's to 'survive.'

Veronica's biological father Dusten Brown, a Cherokee Indian, is currently protected under the law.

According to Court documents Brown is 3/128ths Cherokee Indian.

Veronica's adoptive parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island, argue he does not qualify as a 'parent' under ICWA and the laws' protections don't allow him rights to Veronica.

Baby Veronica was ordered from her adoptive home with the Capobianco's on James Island on New Year's Day 2011 and returned to her biological father, Dusten Brown.

At that time, a brief drafted by Lisa Blatt and Mark Fiddler for the Capobianco's says there are three victims in this case, 'the Baby Girl, the Birth Mother and Veronica's adoptive parents.

The ruling to return Veronica to Brown was handed down by the South Carolina Family Court after a four-day hearing. The court heard testimonies from all parents interested and awarded custody of Veronica to Brown under ICWA.

In July of 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the family court decision.

In a 3-2 vote, the court sided with the child's biological father by rule of the Federal Indian Child Welfare Act.

The Capobianco's further contend ICWA should not apply to Brown in the first place because he had a non-existent Indian family to break-up in the first place.

A reply brief for the Capobianco's states, "while Indian children are undoubtedly vital to tribes, Baby Girl was not part of the Tribe, and treating her otherwise ignores the fundamental difference between keeping Indian children already within Indian communities and wrenching them from their already existing non-Indian homes."

However, Chrissi Nimmo, Assistant Attorney General from the Cherokee Nation, said otherwise.

In a statement, Nimmo said Veronica is growing into her culture and Tribe at a fast rate in the year she's already lived with her biological father in Oklahoma.

"Veronica is doing exceedingly well, surrounded by her father, step-mother, sister, and large extended family in Northeast Oklahoma in the Cherokee Nation's 14-county area. She is undoubtedly thriving and it is evident that this is where she belongs," said Nimmo.

"This child is happy, healthy, smart and outgoing," said Nimmo. "She loves her Daddy, and he loves her. Oklahoma and Cherokee Nation are her home and we hope the Court will uphold the South Carolina Supreme Court decision, which was clearly the correct one."

This is the first time in 14 years, and only the second time ever, the justices have ruled on ICWA at the nation's capital.

The nine justices received more than 20 briefs before Tuesday's hearing.

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