Colorado Supreme Court On Inquiry and Notice

Unfortunately the Colorado Court did not continue its strong position on notice they had in the 2006 ex rel B.H. case.

Thus, as the divisions in A-J.A.B. and Jay.J.L. aptly noted, B.H. “required notice to tribes under a different criterion than the one in effect today.” A-J.A.B., ¶ 76, 511 P.3d at 763; Jay.J.L., ¶ 32, 514 P.3d at 319. As such, B.H. is inapposite.

¶56 In short, while assertions of a child’s Indian heritage gave a juvenile court “reason to believe” that the child was an Indian child under Colorado law in 2006, see B.H., 138 P.3d at 303–04 (emphasis added), the question we confront in this case is whether such assertions give a juvenile court “reason to know” that the child is an Indian child under Colorado law in 2022, § 19-1-126(1)(b) (emphasis added). We agree with the divisions in A-J.A.B. and Jay.J.L. that mere assertions of a child’s Indian heritage (including those that specify a tribe or multiple tribes by name), without more, are not enough to give a juvenile court reason to know that the child is an Indian child. And, correspondingly, to the extent that other divisions of the court of appeals have expressly or impliedly reached a contrary conclusion, we overrule those decisions.

Opinion Here 22SC29

The Indian Law Clinic at MSU represented the tribal amici in this case, the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian Tribes.

Washington Court of Appeals on Standard of Proof at Initial Removal

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We also conclude that when the Department has reason to believe that a child is an Indian child under ICWA and WICWA, the heightened removal standard in those statutes applies to ex parte pick-up order requests. Because the Department had reason to know A.W. is an Indian child–information not shared with the trial court–and the trial court appliced an incorrect legal standard in assessing the Department’s evidence at that stage of the proceeding, the trial court erred in not vacating the pick up order.

Active Efforts Case out of the Colorado Supreme Court

I did not realize how far behind I was on these. Here is a case from the end of June on active efforts from the Colorado Supreme Court.

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To be honest, this case holding is one that most, if not all, states have come to agreement on either in case law, state law, or state policy.

The court concludes that ICWA’s “active efforts” is a heightened standard requiring a greater degree of engagement by agencies like DHS with Native American families compared to the traditional “reasonable efforts” standard.

Qualified Expert Witness Opinion from the Alaska Supreme Court

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The question of qualified expert witness (QEW) has confounded the Alaska Court for years, and unfortunately the regulations and guidelines didn’t provide quite as much clarification as they needed. That said, this decision seems to chart a new course for the Alaska Supreme Court:

As explained further below, the superior court’s interpretation of Oliver N. was mistaken. An expert on tribal cultural practices need not testify about the causal connection between the parent’s conduct and serious damage to the child so long as there is testimony by an additional expert qualified to testify about the causal connection.

* * *

In both cases there is reason to believe cultural assumptions informed the evidence presented to some degree. Had the cultural experts had a chance to review the record — particularly the other expert testimony — they may have been able to respond to and contextualize it. For instance, Dr. Cranor emphasized attachment theory and the economic situation of the families in both cases — areas that may implicate cultural mores or biases. If the cultural experts were aware of this testimony, they could haven addressed attachment theory, economic interdependence, and housing practices in the context of prevailing tribal standards.

Washington Supreme Court Opinion on Active Efforts

Catching up on posting the summer’s reported ICWA cases, so I’m starting with this Washington Supreme Court opinion on active efforts for the initial or shelter care hear.

JMWOpinion 

We took discretionary interlocutory review of this case primarily to decide whether WICWA required the State to take active efforts to prevent the breakup of J.M.W.’s family before taking him into emergency foster care. Consistent with the plain text and purpose of WICWA, we conclude that it did. We also conclude that the trial court was required to make a finding on the record at the interim shelter care hearing that J.M.W.’s out of home placement was necessary to prevent imminent physical damage or harm. We remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

This opinion is trying to find some clarity in what ICWA standards apply when. Here are the two questions the Court sought to answer:

First, whether the department is required to make active efforts to keep an Indian child with their family under such circumstances as presented here. Second, whether the trial court was required to make a formal finding at the interim shelter care hearing that continued placement out of the home was necessary to prevent imminent physical damage or harm to the child.

The section question is essentially asking if the emergency standard of 1922 should apply whenever a child is placed out of the home and there is no 1912 (active efforts, QEW) findings. Interim shelter care hearings often happen before a jurisdictional/adjudication hearing, and can sometimes (often) extend the time before  adjudication hearing happens. In many states the 1912 findings happen either at adjudication or even after that, at the disposition hearing.

Neoshia Roemer on ICWA as Reproductive Justice

Neoshia Roemer has posted “The Indian Child Welfare Act as Reproductive Justice,” forthcoming in the Boston University Law Review, on SSRN.

Here is the abstract:

After decades of abuse through family regulation, Congress enacted the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (“ICWA”) to prevent the breakup of Indian families and promote tribal sovereignty. While ICWA seems like an outlier that addresses one category of children, it is not an outlier. Rather, I argue that ICWA is a tool of reproductive justice. By formulating a legal rights framework for reproductive justice in American jurisprudence, I discuss how the reproductive justice movement is grounded in U.S. law beyond the right to terminate a pregnancy that the Supreme Court abrogated in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. By looking at the history of reproductive rights in American Indian communities, I discuss how family regulation challenges reproductive rights and tribal sovereignty considering Dobbs and Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta. Indian child removals exist in the same history, context, and policy that disrupted the reproductive rights of American Indian families and tribal sovereignty in other areas. Before concluding that ICWA is still good law and good policy to disrupt family regulation and protect the reproductive rights of American Indian peoples, I consider where challenges to ICWA in Haaland v. Brackeen fit into this paradigm and the ongoing need for the protection of tribal sovereignty and reproductive rights for American Indian peoples. For nearly 400 years, the disruption of reproductive rights, including family regulation, has been at the heart of federal Indian policy. The current frame of family regulation as “saving” children means that it is often divorced from the notion of reproductive rights. As the history behind and contemporary challenges to ICWA demonstrate, it should not, and cannot, be separated from the other reproductive justice issues facing American Indian communities. To strengthen legal protections for American Indian people that disrupt these government interventions, like ICWA, is to realize reproductive rights more fully in the United States.

Highly recommended!!!

Fletcher and Khalil on ICWA Preemption and Commandeering

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.

The abstract:

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.

The Wisconsin Law School gargoyle.

Amicus Briefs in Haaland v. Brackeen

We have a total of 21 pro-ICWA Amicus Briefs. Here they are in some rough categories and some VERY rough summaries. In writing this post, I became overwhelmed at this stunning array of briefs and support for ICWA.

Government Briefs

NARF’s Tribal Government and Organizations Brief : this brief has the sign on of nearly 500 tribes and over 60 tribal organizations. It discusses ICWA as an exercise of the trust responsibility, and the political relationship of tribes.

Congressional Brief : 87 Members of Congress signed this brief defending ICWA in the four principle arguments in the case

State AG Brief : 23 states and the District of Columbia signed on to this brief, which highlights how ICWA allows and encourages tribal-state relations in the area of child welfare.

LA County Brief : from the county counsel at the largest child welfare system in the country, it discusses the importance of ICWA to LA County practice with a focus on relocation in particular

Semi-Party Brief

Bradshaw Brief : This brief is unique in that it primarily tells the story of Robyn Bradshaw, the grandmother who adopted her granddaughter who was the subject of the claims of the Cliffords, one of the three foster family plaintiffs in the case. Because the procedural posture of the case below, the Cliffords’ narrative of facts was allowed to go unchecked throughout the life of the case until now.

How Child Welfare Works Briefs

Family Defenders : a brief from parent attorneys/family defenders in more than 8 states, this brief discusses the constitutional rights afforded to parents and families, how those intersect with the child welfare system, and the importance of ICWA in that structure. It directly addresses the arguments made by the other side regarding the child welfare system.

American Bar Association : This brief directly takes on the contention that child welfare is the sole province of the states as well as discussing the legal complexity of the child welfare system.

Casey Family Programs and 26 Other Child Welfare and Adoption Organizations : A continuation of the original, wildly successful, “gold standard” brief from Baby Girl, this brief focuses on child welfare best practices and how ICWA creates, promotes, and supports them.

National Association of Counsel for Children and 30 Other Children’s Rights Organizations : In addition to discussion the Constitutional rights of families, this brief directly addresses how ICWA supports the best interests of children in state proceedings.

Former Foster Children : One of the briefs with a particular place in my heart, this brief allowed Native youth to tell their lived experience to the Court.

How Adoption Works Brief

Non-Native Adoptive Parents : while the plaintiffs in this case were not adoptive parents, this brief directly addresses how ICWA actually works in voluntary adoptions.

Law Professor Briefs

Ablavsky Brief : The originalism brief

Administrative and Constitutional Law Professors : this brief addresses three main issues–federal power, anti-commandeering, and delegation

Indian Law Professors : this brief focuses on the exclusive power of Congress to legislate on behalf of Indians as a political class

American Historical Association : this brief provides historical context, especially around the early efforts (or lack thereof) of state child welfare systems and Native children

Medical Organizations

American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association : ICWA works directly to address the attendant physical and emotional trauma of federal and state policies designed to destroy tribal families and extended tribal networks

American Psychological Association (specifically including the associations of Texas, Louisiana, and Indianan) and the Society of Indian Psychologists : The benefits for children of being parented by Indian adults

Interest Groups

ACLU : ICWA is not a race based law

Constitutional Accountability Center : Originalism and anti-commandeering

National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center : The ramifications, specifically to VAWA, if “Indian” is a racial classification

Sen. Abourezk/Lakota People’s Law Project : Passage of ICWA and issues in South Dakota

Fletcher and Singel on Lawyering and the Indian Child Welfare Act

Fletcher and Singel’s paper, “Lawyering the Indian Child Welfare Act,” has been published in the Michigan Law Review. We’re honored to be part of a symposium on civil rights lawyering!

Our abstract:

This Article describes how the statutory structure of child welfare laws enables lawyers and courts to exploit deep-seated stereotypes about American Indian people rooted in systemic racism to undermine the enforcement of the rights of Indian families and tribes. Even when Indian custodians and tribes are able to protect their rights in court, their adversaries use those same advantages on appeal to attack the constitutional validity of the law. The primary goal of this Article is to help expose those structural issues and the ethically troublesome practices of adoption attorneys as the most important Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) case in history, Brackeen v. Haaland, reaches the Supreme Court.

Tribal Defendants/Intervenors Brief in Haaland v. Brackeen

Merits brief on behalf of the intervening tribes–Cherokee Nation, Oneida Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Navajo Nation–in the Haaland v. Brackeen Supreme Court case.

IntervenorTribeBrief

Pace yourself–she’s a long one.