Fort & Smith on ICWA During the Brackeen Years

Forthcoming in the Juvenile & Family Court Journal

From 2017 through 2022, while the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”) was under direct constitutional attack from Texas, state courts around the country continued hearing appeals on ICWA with virtually no regard for the decision making happening in Haaland v. Brackeen in the federal courts. For practitioners following or working on both sets of cases, this duality felt surreal, as they practiced their daily work under an existential threat. The data in this article draws from the authors’ previous publications providing annual updates on ICWA appeals, and now includes cases through 2021. It provides a description of appellate data trends across this time period, as well as for each year, while also highlighting key appellate decisions from jurisdictions across the country. Perhaps what this article demonstrates more than any single thing is the amount that ICWA is a part of child welfare practitioners’ daily lives now, in a way that will be difficult to upend, regardless of the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision.

This is particularly recommended for practitioners–we’ve taken the data from all our past articles to put them into one. One of our charts still needs a labels fix from our data expert, Alicia Summers, but otherwise the article has undergone peer review and will be published soon.

Application of ICWA to Third Party Custody Petition out of Montana

2023-da-22-0405

The Court agreed that ICWA applied to a third party custody petition where the parent could not get her child back upon demand, but rejected the argument the child must be returned immediately under 1920.

These type of third party cases are particularly important to keep an eye on, as agencies often push cases in this direction to avoid filing a petition on a parent (this itself is a complicated topic). Regardless, parents and tribes shouldn’t lose certain rights under ICWA if the placement meets the definition of a foster care placement under the law.

Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Publishes Damning Report on Alaska’s Child Welfare System Violates the Americans With Disabilities Act

Here is the report.

From the press release:

The Department of Justice announced today that it found reasonable cause to believe that the State of Alaska violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide community-based services to children with behavioral health disabilities, relying instead on segregated, institutional settings — specifically, psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric residential treatment facilities. This finding comes at the conclusion of the department’s investigation into whether Alaska subjects children with behavioral health disabilities to unnecessary institutionalization in violation of Title II of the ADA.

“Each year, hundreds of children, including Alaska Native children in significant number, are isolated in institutional settings often far from their communities,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Most of these children could remain in family homes if provided appropriate community-based services. We look forward to working with Alaska to bring the State into compliance with federal law and prevent the unnecessary institutionalization of children.”

Children who are segregated in psychiatric residential treatment facilities commonly stay there longer than six months, and some of them are sent to states as distant as Texas and Missouri, thousands of miles from their families.

The department’s investigation found that Alaska’s system of care is heavily reliant on institutions and that key community-based services and supports needed to serve children with behavioral health disabilities in family homes, such as home-based family treatment, crisis services and therapeutic treatment home services, are often unavailable. As a result, many children with behavioral health disabilities, including a substantial number of Alaska Native children, are forced to endure unnecessary and unduly long admissions to psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric residential treatment facilities both within Alaska and in states across the country. 

With today’s announcement, the department has concluded its third investigation in 2022 involving the unnecessary institutionalization of children with behavioral health disabilities.

Prof. Fort on Morning Edition and Additional Brackeen Coverage

Morning Edition

“ICWA doesn’t prevent an individualized assessment of the best placement for each child,” says Kathryn Fort, director of the Indian Law Clinic at Michigan State University. State courts do this type of assessment “every day,” she says, adding, “I personally don’t know a state court judge who would be comfortable being told that they weren’t allowed to do an individualized assessment.”

But for an Indian child, Fort says, that individualized assessment includes consideration of the child’s relationship with her relatives, her language, her religion, and her tribal tradition.

“A child isn’t separate from her tribe,” she adds. “That child is sacred to that tribe.”

Romper

WaPo (check out Fred Urbina’s picture!)

Vox

AP

The Guardian

Traverse City Record Eagle

Oral arguments in the case are tomorrow (11/9) at 10am. Live audio can be streamed here.

Colorado Pro Hac Vice Rule for ICWA Cases

Colorado is the most recent state to add a pro hac rule for ICWA cases. This rule is pretty narrow, and only applies for attorneys representing tribes where the tribe has moved to intervene in the case on behalf of their child. This would not apply to any attorneys representing individuals (like a grandma or auntie) in an ICWA case, nor to any appellate work on behalf of tribes filing amicus briefs. However, the rule only requires a verified motion to avoid both fees and local association, which is great for tribal attorneys.

Indian Child’s Tribe Determination out of Alaska Supreme Court

Here is the decision. sp7628

The facts of this case were a little unusual, where a foster family attempted to have a child in their care made a member of one tribe when he was already a citizen of another. The holdings, however, are  useful both for clarity in the regulations for the determination of an Indian child’s tribe, and for keeping state courts out of tribal citizenship decisions.

Court decisions reflect the same rule of deference to the tribe’s exercise of control over its own membership. The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized tribes’ “inherent power to determine tribal membership.” In John v. Baker we recognized that “the Supreme Court has articulated a core set of [tribes’] sovereign powers that remain intact [unless federal law provides otherwise]; in particular, internal functions involving tribal membership and domestic affairs lie within a tribe’s retained inherent sovereign powers.” We have also “long recognized that sovereign powers exist unless divested,” and “ ‘the principle that Indian tribes are sovereign, self-governing entities’ governs ‘all cases where essential tribal relations or rights of Indians are involved.’ ”

Chignik Lagoon’s argument would require state courts to independently interpret tribal constitutions and other sources of law and substitute their own judgment on questions of tribal membership. This argument is directly contrary to the directive of 25 C.F.R. § 23.108.

The Indian Law Clinic at MSU College of Law provided research and technical assistance to the Village of Wales in this case.

Briefing Completed in Haaland v. Brackeen [ICWA]

With the reply briefs filed yesterday, all of the briefing is completed in the Supreme Court case Haaland v. Brackeen. Oral argument will be at the Court on November 9th. There will be a decision before the end of June, 2023, though there’s no good way to determine when that will arrive other than that.

Arizona Court of Appeals on Notice [ICWA]

1 CA-SA 22-0076 Tohono v. Hon Fridlund SQ – Opinion

Under Arizona law, tribes shall receive notice in voluntary proceedings:

Arizona Revised Statutes § 8-535(A) provides that after a petition for termination of the parent-child relationship has been filed, “notice of the initial hearing and a copy of the petition shall be given to . . . the tribe of any Indian child as defined by [ICWA].” The statute does not limit the notice requirement to involuntary proceedings.

***

Because neither A.R.S. § 8-535 nor the Arizona Rules of Juvenile Procedure limit an Indian tribe’s right to notice or intervention solely to involuntary parental terminations, those tribal rights extend to voluntary termination proceedings. Since the Nation was not provided notice of the initial termination proceeding, nor was it allowed to intervene, we vacate the parental termination order, grant the Nation’s motion to intervene, and remand to the superior court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion

 

Thank you to everyone who sent this to me within approximately 20 minutes of it being released.