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California Attorney General Leads Defense of Indian Child Welfare Act Protections Before U.S. Supreme Court

The following is a press release issued by the Rob Bonta, the California Attorney General’s Office:

Members of the Round Valley Indian Tribe retrace a forced 1863 relocation to Covelo, California [Picture from WikiCommons]

California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a bipartisan coalition of 26 attorneys general in an amicus brief in support of the United States and four federally recognized tribes in their efforts to uphold critical protections guaranteed under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Filed before the U.S. Supreme Court in Haaland v. Brackeen and Cherokee Nation v. Brackeen, the amicus brief highlights the states’ compelling interest in standing up for the well-being of all children, including Native American children, in state child-custody proceedings.

“The truth is that there has been a long, ugly history in the United States of policies that had the effect of separating Native American children from their culture, families, and communities,” said Attorney General Bonta. “ICWA is a critical tool for protecting Native American children, their parents, and tribes — and it is under threat. If we are to truly honor the history and legacy of our tribal partners, we must act. Alongside a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this case and correct the errors the court of appeals made in its decision.” 

Congress enacted ICWA in 1978 in response to a serious and pervasive problem: State and private parties were initiating state child-custody proceedings that removed Native American children from the custody of their parents — often without good cause — and placed them in the custody of non-tribal adoptive and foster homes. That practice harmed children and posed an existential threat to the continuity and vitality of tribal communities. To address this, Congress established minimum federal standards governing the removal of Native American children from their families. ICWA’s provisions safeguard the rights of Native American children, parents, and tribes in state child-custody proceedings, and seek to promote the placement of Native American children with members of their extended families or with other tribal homes. In the four decades since Congress enacted ICWA, the statute has become the foundation of state-tribal relations in the realm of child custody and family services. Collectively, the coalition states are home to approximately 86% of federally recognized tribes in the United States.

In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts that: 

  • ICWA is a critical tool for protecting Native American families and tribes, and fostering state-tribal collaboration;
  • The court of appeals incorrectly concluded that several of ICWA’s provisions violate the anti-commandeering doctrine; and
  • ICWA’s preferences for the placement of Native American children with other Native American families and foster homes do not violate equal protection. 

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

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