Last Thursday in a 7 to 2 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, a law that gives preference to Native American families in the adoption or foster care of Native American children, the Associated Press reported.
Tribal leaders believe that the law helps to preserve the traditions and cultures of Native American families and argued that a ruling against the law would undermine the self-governing ability of Native tribes.
The law was challenged by some Republican states and white parents who argued that the law was based on race.
In the majority opinion, Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote that while the “issues are complicated,” the “bottom line” is that the Court rejects the challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act.
Two conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, dissented from the ruling, arguing that foster care placements and adoption are not within the authority of Congress but the states.
In his dissent, Justice Alito wrote that upholding the law is a disservice to “the rights and interests of these children.”
In a separate opinion supporting the majority, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch argued that the Court’s decision will safeguard a tribe’s ability to “raise their children free from interference by state authorities and other outside parties.”
Tribal leaders involved in the case described the ruling as a victory for Native American children and tribes.
In a joint statement, representatives from the Cherokee Nation, the Oneida Nation, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, and the Quinault Indian Nation said that they hoped the Court’s decision will put to rest the attacks against the sovereignty of tribal nations “that have persisted for too long.”
Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act after an alarming number of Native children were removed from their homes by private and public agencies. Under the law, states are required to notify tribes when a child is to be removed and seek to place the child with either an extended family member, a member of the child’s tribe, or another Native American family.