The U.S. Supreme Court issued six opinions this morning, but none of them pertained to the custody battle for 3-year-old Veronica, a case that could have implications on future adoptions of American Indian children.
The justices started publishing rulings at 10 a.m. and finished about a half-hour later. They are scheduled to break for summer recess, so a ruling in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is almost certain this week.
Other cases remaining include two about gay marriage.
The court again will issue rulings at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The court typically adjourns in late June or early July. It won’t reconvene until Oct. 7.
For the Lowcountry couple who tried to adopt Veronica and the girl’s biological family in Oklahoma, the court’s opinion will help bring closure to a lengthy, emotional ordeal.
Jessica Munday, a spokeswoman for Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island, said she thinks it’s unlikely that the justices will rule on the case after the summer recess because a “child is involved, and a timely ruling is critical for her well-being.”
“This has been an extremely difficult and emotionally draining time for (the Capobiancos),” Munday said in a statement late Sunday. “We remain hopeful for a positive outcome where Veronica can be surrounded by everyone that loves and cares for her.”
It’s unknown whether the Capobiancos and Veronica’s father, Dusten Brown, will react publicly to the ruling. Munday said the Capobiancos would make that decision after the opinion is released.
The Supreme Court has been the object of much attention in recent weeks as attorneys, involved parties and interested people eagerly await the decision about Veronica and the gay marriage issues.
Lisa Blatt, a Washington attorney who argued for the Capobiancos, recently told The New York Times that she was one of many finding themselves scouring blogs and other websites for any information about a ruling. Blatt has argued 33 cases in front of the land’s top justices, according to the New York Times interview, but the Veronica case is the only one still pending.
On April 16, the court heard oral arguments from Blatt and other attorneys. Their statements 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 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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