U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to consider law that gives preferences to tribes in Native American adoptions

  • Print.

Supreme Court building

Image from Shutterstock.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider the constitutionality of a federal law giving Indian tribes preference in Native American adoptions and foster-care arrangements.

The court agreed to consolidate and hear four cases involving challenges to the law, the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. All four petitions stem from a federal appeals court ruling that struck down some provisions of the law, SCOTUSblog previously reported.

Issues before the Supreme Court include whether the preferences violate equal protection guarantees, whether the law’s provisions commandeer the states in violation of the 10th Amendment, whether Congress had the power to enact the law, and whether the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the law.

The plaintiffs in the case were the states of Texas, Louisiana and Indiana, along with six individuals who wanted to adopt or foster Native American children and a seventh who wanted to place her baby for adoption even though the father was an American Indian.

The ABA House of Delegates adopted a resolution in August 2019 declaring that the law is constitutional.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a fractured opinion when it considered the law in an en banc opinion in April 2021.

The en banc majority ruled Congress had the authority to enact the law. A majority also ruled that some of the law’s provisions unconstitutionally commandeer the states, including a provision that “active efforts” be made to prevent the breakup of Indian families.

But the court split 8-8 on whether placement preferences unconstitutionally commandeer the states in some circumstances, leaving in place a federal judge’s ruling that the preferences are unconstitutional on that ground.

The appeals court also split 8-8 on the equal protection issue, leaving in place a federal judge’s ruling that the law violated equal protection guarantees.

The case is Haaland v. Brackeen.

Hat tip to @SCOTUSblog and Law360, which covered the cert grant.

Related articles:

ABAJournal.com: “In 325-page opinion, en banc 5th Circuit splits on preference for tribes in Native American adoptions”

ABAJournal.com: “Indian Child Welfare Act is constitutional, ABA House declares”

ABA Journal: “Lawsuits dispute whether the Indian Child Welfare Act is in the best interests of children”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.