Dusten Brown suffered a significant blow to his chances of keeping his daughter Friday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to halt 3-year-old Veronica’s adoption.
The front lines in the Oklahoma man’s legal battle now shift to his home state, where supporters think he stands a better opportunity to foil the adoption by Matt and Melanie Capobianco of James Island.
Charleston County Family Court Judge Daniel Martin approved the adoption Wednesday, as well as a transition plan detailing how Veronica would be handed back to the couple.
That move came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act didn’t apply to Brown because he hadn’t been in the child’s life. He used the ICWA in 2011 to get custody of the child who had been living with the Capobiancos.
The James Island couple declined to comment on the development Friday. But the Washington attorney for Veronica’s birth mother, who wants only the Capobiancos to adopt the girl, said it provided brief relief.
“Now the big question is whether (Brown) will comply,” Lori Alvino McGill said.
But Brown already has said that he wouldn’t abide by something that, from his perspective, could harm the toddler.
Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, said the tribal leaders were “extremely disappointed” about the decision.
Seven of the nine justices in Washington voted to deny a stay of judgment, which would have put the brakes on the adoption as they considered rehearing the case.
Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor wanted to grant the stay. They were two of the four justices who dissented from the court’s majority opinion in June.
Nimmo said Brown’s request was the justices’ chance to clarify their June decision, which sent the case back to South Carolina without specific instructions in determining Veronica’s custody.
“Instead ... the (U.S.) Supreme Court has washed their hands of this case,” Nimmo said. “The majority (of justices) … reversed this case with little to no thought about what would happen to Veronica ... and apparently still care very little about what is best for her.”
South Carolina’s high court had declined to consider petitions filed this summer by Brown and his relatives to adopt Veronica, which served as the basis for Brown’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
His attorneys said the ICWA meant that competing adoption bids should be considered before a child such as Veronica, who is part Cherokee, is adopted. The law gives preference to tribal members in adoption proceedings.
The adoption petitions in Oklahoma and Cherokee Nation courts might help Brown as his fight moves there. Nimmo also said Veronica still has the right to have an Oklahoma judge decide what’s in the girl’s best interests.
Oklahoma’s judicial system must approve the adoption order before it can be enforced.
Shannon Jones, Brown’s attorney in Charleston, said she was “surprised and encouraged” that two U.S. Supreme Court justices said Friday that they wanted to block the adoption. Brown had a better chance of winning the lottery than being granted the stay, she said, because the court rarely gets involved in domestic relations disputes.
But in Oklahoma, Jones said the facts are on her client’s side. Judges and experts, including one who drafted the transition plan for the Capobiancos, have acknowledged that a custody switch could be emotionally burdensome for Veronica.
“We’re putting a lot of hope in Oklahoma courts,” Jones said. “Oklahoma still has a chance to do the right thing.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.