The U.S. Supreme Court took a close look at the law and decided it was misinterpreted in the case of little Veronica Capobianco. The S.C. Supreme Court will have to give it another go.
And while Tuesday’s decision from the nation’s highest court could make it less likely that other children will be caught in the same unfortunate tug of war as inflicted in Veronica’s case, it doesn’t yet give clarity on the family, or families, in the 3-year-old’s future.
The ruling merely returns the case to our state’s highest court.
Veronica lived nearly 28 months with adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco on James Island. Then the courts awarded custody to her biological father, Dusten Brown, who lives in Oklahoma, where she has spent the last 18 months.
At issue is the Indian Child Welfare Act, which is intended to counteract the removal of Native American children from Indian families. Veronica is 1.2 percent Indian.
While keeping Indian families together is a worthy aim, the concept is skewed when interpreted in a way that is so disruptive and hurtful. Surely Veronica’s has been a journey with plenty of pain to go around.
The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the sad fact that Mr. Brown was not really a parent before he was awarded custody. He had agreed to forfeit his parental rights before Veronica was born and refused to pay child support. He hadn’t tried to contact the child, nor had his parents.
The U.S. Supreme Court made its decision, by a narrow 5-4 margin, on the law. Many others had reached the same conclusion based on humanity.
And indeed, the S.C. Supreme Court, in deciding otherwise, had done so by a vote of 3-2 and with “a heavy heart.”
The U.S. high court’s ruling shouldn’t be expected to lead to the erosion of Native American families and tribes. That would be a pity.
But the decision did not tamper with the Indian Child Welfare Act. It only clarified it. People still aren’t allowed to remove Indian children from their families.
American Indian children should not, however, be considered part of an Indian family when no family has existed for that child — when no family member has ever seen them or cared for them.
Some see the U.S. Supreme Court ruling as a potential blow to preserving and protecting Indian families and culture. Rather it should be viewed as encouraging Solomonic restraint the application of the law.
As such, it gives renewed hope to the Capobiancos and the many local supporters of their cause.