Justices Decline Second Look at Indian Child Case

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A Cherokee man whose daughter was given up for adoption cannot stay an order that gives custody of the girl to an adoptive couple in South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
     Dusten Brown has been fighting to assert paternity rights over Baby Veronica, as she is named in court records, ever since he was served with an adoptive action in January 2010, four days before Brown was scheduled to be deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army.
     That same month, the Cherokee nation identified Brown as a registered member and determined that his daughter was an “Indian child.”
     Veronica had been living since her birth in September 2009 with an adoptive couple, Melanie and Matt Capobiano, in Charleston, S.C.
     After a September 2011 trial over the adoption, the Charleston County Family Court transferred custody to Brown under the Indian Child Welfare Act.
     The Capobiancos transferred custody of the baby to Brown on Dec. 31, 2011, and the biological father flew her to Oklahoma where they live with his parents.
     Though the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed denial of the adoption in July 2012, a five-member majority of the U.S. Supreme Court reversed in June.
     That decision said the Indian Child Welfare Act “does not apply when, as here, the relevant parent never had custody of the child.”
     On remand, the South Carolina Supreme Court then awarded custody of 3-year-old Baby Veronica back to the Capobiancos.
     Brown asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay that ruling, but the justices shot him down Friday. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor noted that they would have granted the stay. Both women had also dissented in June.
     As explained in the court record, Veronica’s biological mother, Christinna Maldonado, chose adoption because she was struggling financially with two other children from another father. She chose the Capobiancos because of their stability.
     The Charleston couple have been married since 2005 and have no other children. Melanie has advanced degrees in developmental psychology, and Matt works for Boeing as an automotive engineer.
     Maldonado had allegedly broken up with Brown while pregnant with Veronica because he was pressuring her to get married.
     Brown said Maldonado ignored his attempts at communication, but the court record shows that these attempts were not meaningful. The record also shows that Brown did not give Maldonado any financial support, despite some means to do so, and that he supports an older child he had from a previous marriage.
     When Maldonado connected with the Capobiancos in June 2009, she sent Brown a critical text message. It asked whether he wanted to pay child support or relinquish his parental rights.
     Though Brown chose the latter option, he later testified that he would not have done so if he knew adoption was on the table. Brown allegedly thought he was relinquishing his rights to the biological mother.
     The Capobiancos gave Maldonado financial assistance during her pregnancy and had hired an attorney to look into the baby’s potential Cherokee Indian status.
     Court records show that Maldonado had initially been reluctant about revealing Brown’s tribal status, knowing that the information could complicate the adoption.
     The Capobiancos had been present in the Oklahoma delivery room for Veronica’s birth, and Matt cut the umbilical cord.
     The Child Welfare Division of the Cherokee Nation had initially been unable to verify Brown’s membership because of some inaccuracies in the paperwork.
     Thinking that that this resolved Baby Veronica’s ethnicity, the Capobiancos listed the baby as Hispanic on a form to remove her from Oklahoma.
     Cherokee officials later said, however, that such removal would not have been possible if they knew about Baby Veronica’s Native American status.
     Last week, a federal judge refused to hold a hearing sought by Angel Smith, an attorney for the Cherokee Nation, that would determine Baby Veronica’s “best interests today.”
     At this point, Baby Veronica has been living with her biological father and his family for 19 months, after spending the first 27 months of her life with the Capobiancos.
     Maldonado meanwhile is fighting with other women who gave up children for adoption sued to have part of the Indian Child Welfare Act declared unconstitutional.
     The women claim that the act violates their right to choose adoptive parents who will provide their children with a loving and stable environment.

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