Attorney General Mills joins Supreme Court brief in support of Indian Child Welfare Act

March 28, 2013

AUGUSTA ? Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills has signed onto an amicus brief filed today in the United States Supreme Court which urges the Court to fully enforce the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

The case before the Court involves a baby born in Oklahoma to a father who is a member of the Cherokee nation. The non-Indian mother, who was not married to the father, put the child up for adoption. The child was placed for adoption with a non-Indian family and moved to South Carolina. The South Carolina Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the lower court, in approving the adoption, had violated ICWA. The lower court had ruled that because the child had not come from an ?existing Indian family,? that ICWA did not apply.

?The Indian Child Welfare Act provides minimum federal standards to ensure that the rights of Indian children, their parents and their tribes are fully respected in child custody proceedings,? Attorney General Mills stated. This federal law, enacted in 1978, was designed to reverse private and public efforts of assimilation of tribal members over many generations and to protect the ?continued existence and integrity of Indian tribes.? Congress found that, whenever possible, it is in an Indian child?s best interests to maintain a relationship with the child?s tribe.

ICWA requires that a parent who is a tribal member be given strong preference for custody. The law further requires that in an adoption placement of an Indian child whose parents have given up their rights, state courts must give preference to a member of the child?s extended tribal family or to other Indian families, unless good cause is shown to deviate from those preferences.

?The facts of the South Carolina case are particularly outrageous,? Mills stated, ?because the father of this Indian child was in the military and he was first notified about the proposed adoption of his child only four days before he was scheduled to deploy to Iraq.?

?The State of Maine, the Wabanaki people, and potential adoptive parents should know what the Federal law requires and should know that the law will be applied evenly,? Mills stated. ?The State of Maine conscientiously adheres to ICWA and trains its case workers and judges accordingly. Maine courts have never adopted the so-called ?Indian family exception? at issue in the South Carolina case.?