Attorneys representing the James Island couple whose adoptive daughter was returned to her biological father under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court this week in support of their position.
Last month, the high court agreed to hear the case involving the contested adoption of 3-year-old Veronica, or Little Star, as she is known to the Cherokee.
The new documents review much of the same ground covered in lower court proceedings, but they serve to stake out positions in advance of oral arguments scheduled before the high court on April 16.
Attorneys for Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island argue that the “human tragedy” of removing Veronica from the couple’s home was neither mandated by the Indian Child Welfare Act nor permitted by the Constitution.
The guardian ad litem in the case also submitted a brief in support of the couple’s position.
The biological father, Dusten Brown, and his attorneys have not yet filed new briefs with the court in support of their case. But they have long maintained the lower courts properly interpreted the 1978 law, which aims to preserve American Indian families.
The briefs contend that the justices will have to answer two questions: whether a non- custodial parent can invoke the Indian Child Welfare Act to block an adoption and whether the act defines “parent” to include an unwed biological father who did not take steps to obtain legal status as a parent.
The Capobiancos’ attorneys argue that the child’s father renounced his parental responsibilities when he told his fiancé at the time that he would not help support the baby, according to the brief. In June 2009, Brown also renounced his parental rights in a text message to Veronica’s mother, the brief stated.
The mother arranged to place the baby with the Capobiancos, who were with her at birth and were eager to adopt her.
When the father was notified of the adoption plans, he signed a document that stated he is the birth father and that he was not contesting the adoption. He soon changed his mind and contested the adoption, testifying that when he signed that form, he believed that he was signing away his rights to the mother of his child, the brief stated.
Brown later admitted that his behavior wasn’t becoming of a father, but said he would have been more involved if he had known Veronica was up for adoption.
A Charleston County Family Court ruling sided with Brown and relinquished the girl to his care on New Year’s Eve 2011. She has been living with him in Oklahoma ever since.
The couple appealed that decision, but failed to win over the state Supreme Court, which upheld the family court ruling by a 3-2 vote in July. Though Brown did not support the girl’s mother during pregnancy, his rights as a parent should not be stripped, the court stated.
While the Supreme Court’s decision on this case will ultimately decide where Veronica will end up, it has the potential to affect the way thousands of adoptions are handled each year and alter the playing field for Native American groups from coast to coast.