Dusten Brown with daughter Veronica
  • Courtesy NCAI
  • Dusten Brown with daughter Veronica

The Supreme Court’s ruling today on Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl may have been favorable to Baby Veronica’s adoptive parents, James Island couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco, but Veronica’s fate is still in limbo as the case now lands back South Carolina courts.

The opinion, hailed as a positive step for the Capobiancos, does reverse the decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court, but remands the question of Baby Veronica’s custody back to the court, which will likely send it to the Charleston family court that originally ruled in the case. The local court would then issue a final custody ruling, taking into account the Supreme Court’s opinion.

Writing for the Court, Justice Samuel Alito argued that Veronica’s birth father, Dusten Brown, should not have been able to “play his [Indian Child Welfare Act] trump card at the eleventh hour to override the mother’s decision and the child’s best interests,” observing if that precedent were set, potential adoptive parents “would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA.”

In short, the Court ruled that the State Supreme Court’s interpretation that the ICWA negated Brown’s voluntary surrendering of his parental rights was incorrect. Alito also stipulated that application of the ICWA, a federal law designed to protect Native American families, is only relevant in cases of “continued custody” by a family, and that the law “does not apply where a birth father has not previ­ ously had custody of his child.”

Reacting to the ruling, the National Congress of American Indians, which filed an amicus brief in the case supporting Brown, issued a statement applauding the “narrow decision,” noting that the Court’s ruling did not affect the legal standing of the ICWA itself. Jefferson Keel, the group’s president, defended Brown in the statement, saying the group is “confident that his parental rights will be upheld, and that Veronica will stay with her family.” Keel continued, “we will continue to support Dusten Brown’s fight for his rights as a father and for Veronica to remain with her loving father, grandparents, and community.”

In a joint statement issued with the Capobiancos, Veronica’s birth mother Christinna Maldanado, said the ruling was a new “opportunity to continue fighting for Veronica’s best interests,” and that she’s “hopeful that we will all be reunited with Veronica very soon.”

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.