The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of a James Island couple seeking to overturn a ruling that returned their adopted daughter to her biological father under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act.
The case involving 3-year-old Veronica is one of three the high court chose to take up after meeting in conference Friday to review some 30 petitions for hearings, according to the Supreme Court of the United States blog.
An attorney for Matt and Melanie Capobianco filed their 142-page petition with the high court in October, arguing that the justices should accept the case to settle uncertainty over how the 1978 act should be interpreted.
Through a family spokeswoman, the Capobiancos said, “We are so incredibly excited that the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted our case. We have a renewed sense of faith in our legal system and a renewed sense of hope that Veronica will be able to come home.”
Mark Fiddler, a Minnesota lawyer working on the Capobiancos' behalf, called the court's decision significant and said his clients are thrilled to continue their quest to get Veronica back.
Charleston lawyer Shannon Jones, who represents Veronica's biological father, Dusten Brown, said her client and his family were disappointed to learn that the case was going forward. But they take heart in knowing that Brown's custody of Veronica has been upheld by every court so far, she said.
“We are confident the U.S. Supreme Court will come to the same conclusion,” Jones said.
Jones said the high court hearing could take place as soon as April.
The Capobiancos have not seen Veronica since a family court ruling relinquished the girl to her father on New Year's Eve of 2011.
The S.C. Supreme Court in July upheld Veronica's return to her biological father in Oklahoma. Her father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, successfully challenged the adoption using the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law aimed at preserving American Indian families.
The federal law has been reviewed only once at the highest level. In 1989, Justice William Brennan sided with Mississippi's Choctaw tribe, which challenged an adoption of twins.
“At issue in the (Veronica) case is the definition of 'parent' under the federal law, including whether that includes an unwed father who only belatedly claimed parental rights,” the Supreme Court blog stated.
Cherokee Nation Attorney General Todd Hembree released a statement Friday night expressing surprise that the court decided to hear this case.
“The South Carolina Supreme Court completely addressed all aspects of the Indian Child Welfare Act, and we believe their decision was correct,” Hembree said. “This is a matter that is of utmost importance to all of Indian Country. Our children are our future, and the Cherokee Nation stands ready to defend the rights of Native American children to be raised in Native American homes.”
Before Veronica was born in September 2009 in Oklahoma, her biological parents canceled their engagement and went separate ways. The Capobiancos met Veronica's mother through an adoption agency and adopted the baby at birth.
Brown sought custody of the girl after learning of the adoption in January 2010.
Though Brown did not support the girl's mother during pregnancy, his rights as a parent should not be stripped, the S.C. Supreme Court confirmed in its July ruling.
Since her return to Oklahoma, Veronica has been given the name “Little Star” by the Cherokee and has attended stomp dances and other Native American rituals with her father and others to introduce her to her culture, Jones said.
Brown recently married, and Veronica is in a new home where she is thriving, she said.
This October 2011 photo provided by Melanie Capobianco shows her adoptive daughter Veronica trick-or-treating in Charleston. The child has been the focus of a custody battle between her adoptive parents and her birth father. The adoption case involving little Veronica is one pitting the South Carolina couple who nurtured her since birth against her biological father who was recently awarded custody of the 2-year-old child and took her to Oklahoma. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Melanie Capobianco)×