The U.S. Supreme Court could make a ruling this morning in the hotly contested custody battle over 3-year-old Veronica, the curly haired girl with American Indian blood whom a James Island couple tried to adopt at birth.
The justices issued three opinions on Thursday and are expected to again publish rulings starting at 10 a.m. They are scheduled to break for summer recess, so a ruling in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is expected this week. Other cases remaining include two about gay marriage.
On April 16, the court heard oral arguments that complemented hundreds of pages legal briefs from attorneys and organizations that opined on the ruling’s consequences.
The case hinges on the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law aimed at placing American Indian children in foster or adoptive families who share their heritage. It arose in 1978 after advocates pointed out that a striking number of American Indian children were being placed outside their cultures, further diluting native societies.
Veronica was born in September 2009 to Dusten Brown, an Army reservist and member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and Christinna Maldonado, a Hispanic mother of two.
The two had been engaged, but they broke off their relationship months before Veronica was born.
Before the birth, Maldonado gave Brown a choice between giving up his paternal rights or paying child support. Brown declined to give Maldonado money, but he later told attorneys that he didn’t mean to allow Veronica to be put up for adoption.
Meanwhile, Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island were stymied in their own efforts to have a child. After in vitro fertilization failed, they turned to adoption and met Maldonado through an agency.
They were with Maldonado when Veronica was born. Maldonado signed over custody to the Capobiancos, and the couple flew the infant to South Carolina, where adoption proceedings commenced.
Brown didn’t know about the pending adoption until four months later.
The delay in notification was blamed on a clerical error: Brown’s named was misspelled when Veronica’s mother first filed the papers. But attorneys for Brown alleged that the mistake was purposeful.
After he was served the documents, Brown promptly challenged the proceeding, then was deployed for a tour of duty in the Middle East.
But Brown’s claim of the child at the “eleventh hour,” the Capobiancos’ attorneys have argued, was too late. He should have expressed interest in his daughter sooner and provided care for the girl and her mother, they wrote in legal arguments.
Brown’s attorneys later argued that his biological link to Veronica and her heritage meant that ICWA allows him to claim her and halt the adoption.
But the American Indian makeup of Veronica’s blood was said to be only 3/256th, and she also shares Hispanic heritage with her mother, attorneys for the Capobiancos have said. They said that ICWA shouldn’t give rights to a father who has otherwise relinquished them under state laws.
A family court in South Carolina ruled in Brown’s favor, and the S.C. Supreme Court later agreed with the lower judges. Veronica was sent in late 2011 to live with Brown in Oklahoma, where she has been ever since.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
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