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Jun 23 2013

Interesting Supreme Court decisions due soon

Over at Scotusblog, Khedar Bhatia has been keeping track of the US Supreme Court verdicts and says that there are still eleven cases whose rulings are yet to be released and are likely to be issued in the coming week.

Four of them are high profile and many people have heard of them: the affirmative actions case Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin; the voting rights case Shelby County v. Holder, and the two same-sex marriage cases Hollingsworth v. Perry (Proposition 8) and United States v. Windsor (DOMA).

But there is a fifth case that I have been also following and that is the curiously titled Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl in which the court will rule if a father who relinquished to the mother all rights over a child born out of wedlock can intervene later and block the mother giving up the child for adoption and take custody of a child he had never met. Normally that would not be allowed under South Carolina state law but the wrinkle in this case is that the father is a Native American and is invoking the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 that he claims allows him to do so, under a provision meant to protect Native American children from the earlier practice of being improperly placed for adoption in the homes of white families.

The court has to decide whether under that statute the word “parent” includes an “unwed biological father who has not complied with state law rules to attain legal status as a parent.” If so, the federal ICWA statute would trump state law and he would gain custody. In December 2011, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that it did and gave the father custody of the then two-year old child.

You can listen to NPR’s Nina Totenberg’s always excellent reporting on this case or read the transcript of her story.

As Totenberg says,

Just how you see this case is something of a Rorschach test, with the adoptive parents seeing it one way, the father another, the mother yet another, and the court-appointed guardian still another.

Whichever way the Supreme Court rules in June, the case of “Baby Girl,” as she is referred to in the briefs, is heartbreaking. No one disputes that she was sublimely happy with her adoptive parents, and videos of her with her father, now married, seem to show a little girl equally happy.

As is often true in cases involving custody of children, the story is sad and there will not be any winners, only losers. This one is particularly messy with many intersecting arguments at play.

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