WASHINGTON, D.C. — An American Indian child being raised by her biological father should not have been taken from her adoptive parents, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday, saying that a federal law designed to keep Indian families together did not apply in the case.
The 5-4 decision reversed a ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, finding that the case represented an exception to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law designed to make it difficult for Indian children to be removed from their families.
The court’s majority held that the case did not involve removing a child from an Indian home because the girl’s father had renounced his parental rights before the child was born and the child’s birth mother, a Mexican-American, had agreed to allow the South Carolina couple to adopt the girl.
Several months after the child’s birth, the biological father, Dusten Brown, an enrolled member of the Cherokee tribe, changed his mind and sought custody of his daughter. He said he had not realized that his former fiancée was going to put the child up for adoption. The girl was in the process of being adopted by Matt and Melanie Capobianco, a white couple who raised her for 27 months before South Carolina courts ruled in favor of Brown.
The decision means the case will return to the South Carolina courts.