Fletcher and Randall F. Khalil have posted “Preemption, Commandeering, and the Indian Child Welfare Act,” forthcoming in the Wisconsin Law Review, on SSRN. This paper is part of the law review’s symposium on Interpretation in the States.
This year (2022), the Supreme Court agreed to review wide-ranging constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) brought by the State of Texas and three non-Indian foster families in the October 2022 Term. The Fifth Circuit, sitting en banc, held that certain provisions of ICWA violated the anticommandeering principle implied in the Tenth Amendment and the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
We argue that the anticommandeering challenges against ICWA are unfounded because all provisions of ICWA provides a set of legal standards to be applied in state which validly and expressly preempt state law without unlawfully commandeering the States’ executive or legislative branches. Congress’s power to compel state courts to apply federal law is long established and beyond question.
Yet even if some provisions of ICWA did violate the Tenth, we argue that Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment sufficiently authorizes Congress’s enactment of ICWA so as to defeat the anti-commandeering concerns. Strangely, no party ever invoked Congress’s power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to assess its constitutionality. ICWA seems like an obvious candidate for analysis under Congress’s enforcement powers under Section 5. States routinely discriminated against American Indian families on the basis of their race and ancestry (and their religion and culture), and ICWA is designed to remedy the abuses of state courts and agencies.
We further have no doubt that the state legislatures that adopted ICWA in whole, in part, or as modified also possessed the power to do so, even in the event the Supreme Court holds all or portions of ICWA unconstitutional.