Maine AG responds to Supreme Court decision on Indian Child Welfare Act

June 28, 2013

AUGUSTA - Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills expressed dismay at the decision handed down by the Supreme Court this week in the case of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. The decision places limits on the applicability of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in a case in which the Court found that the biological father who was a tribal member had relinquished his rights to his daughter because he did not have 'legal custody' of the child.

"Under Maine law, this man would not have lost rights and responsibilities to his child. He would be presumed to have equal parental rights with the mother under longstanding Maine statutes. We will continue to urge courts and case workers in Maine to apply ICWA fully, giving effect to Congress' intent to ensure that the rights of Indian children, their parents and their tribes are fully respected in child custody proceedings.?

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.

Attorney General Mills joined an amicus brief in the case, which urged that the parental rights of the father be upheld. Unfortunately, by a 5-4 margin, the court ruled that he had given up his parental rights in the form of a text message just days before his unit was deploying to Iraq. ?That is a deplorable result, a result that would not have occurred in Maine,? Attorney General Mills stated. ?In this state we will continue to give tribal parents maximum deference.?


Decision in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl erodes protections afforded to native tribes when considering child custody cases.