Reaction Thursday to the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling in the Baby Veronica case was extreme.
Who is truly looking out for Baby Veronica? Read about the people who say they have the child’s best interests at heart.
Elation came for the Capobianco family on James Island that the court had acted so quickly. Outrage came from Dusten Brown, the father of Veronica, who is trying to hold onto his daughter in Oklahoma. Lawyers and legal experts on both sides are holding their collective breaths to see if this case is finally coming to a conclusion.
On Wednesday, the state Supreme Court, in a 3-2 ruling, ordered Charleston County Family Court to finalize the adoption of Veronica by the Capobiancos and to terminate the parental rights of Brown. The ruling also said there was no need for a Family Court “hearing on the child’s best interest,” which would be an opportunity for the Brown family to argue their case in court.
Veronica’s birth mother gave her up for adoption to the Capobiancos shortly after she was born in September 2009. Her father, from Oklahoma, who is part Cherokee, filed for custody under the Indian Child Welfare Act after he got the adoption papers in January 2010. He had originally expressed no interest in his daughter, but has since made a home for her.
At the heart of the issue was whether Brown’s rights as a father are protected under the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law aimed at keeping American Indian children in their native communities.
The S.C. Supreme Court originally held that the federal law gave immediate custody of Veronica to Brown in December of 2011. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the federal law does not apply when “the parent abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child.”
They sent the case back to the S.C. Supreme Court, unequivocally finding that the ICWA does not mandate custody be awarded to the birth father.
“We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the court acted,” said Jessica Munday, spokesperson for the Capobiancos.
Shannon Jones, attorney for the Browns, said she is preparing her brief for a rehearing of the case due to the court on Monday. The court gave lawyers five days to file an appeal on the case. She wants the court to explain why they didn’t allow a hearing on the “child’s best interest” in Family Court.
“That impact will carry out and endure into the future — that a child’s best interest is to be ignored,” she said.
Brown and his wife Robin issued a statement Thursday expressing their feelings: “We are outraged that the South Carolina Supreme Court would order the adoption of our child finalized without a proper hearing to determine what is in Veronica’s best interests.
“This child has been back with her family for 19 months and to tear her away from us, the family she loves and the only family she knows or remembers, would be devastating to her.”
Lori McGill, lawyer for the birth mother, was on the other side. She said, “That decision serves Veronica’s interest in being reunited with her family – her adoptive parents who raised her literally from before birth until age 2 ½, and her biological mother, who has an open adoption arrangement with them – a family that she was torn from 18 months ago with no transition period whatsoever, solely because of a mistake of law and the Cherokee Nation’s belief that a tribal member was entitled to possess her because of her 1% Cherokee ancestry.”
The National Congress of American Indians also weighed in, saying that removing the now-3-year-old girl from her home in Oklahoma would be traumatic.
Editor’s note: Previous versions of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to Jessica Munday.