Reflections on Oral Argument in Brackeen v. Bernhardt

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Four Intervening Tribes Leadership and Attorneys

On Wednesday, an en banc panel of 16 judges in the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in Brackeen v. Bernhardt. Judges Davis and Ho were not a part of the panel. The other judges, from the left side of the bench around to the right were:

Oldham
Duncan
Willett
Higginson
Haynes
Elrod
Stewart
Smith
Owen
Jones
Wiener
Dennis
Southwick
Graves Jr.
Costa
Englehart

The rest of the information is from my notes during the hearing, and I’m sure contain some mistakes that we will see when a transcript is released.

Of the 16 judges, 5 of them asked a vast majority of the questions–more than 5 questions each. Duncan asked 19, Dennis and Jones asked 11, Smith asked 7 and Costa asked 5. The federal government received 11 questions, Navajo Nation 7, and the Four Intervening Tribes 7. Texas received 19, and the Individual Plaintiffs 16. The Four Intervening Tribes received 4 additional questions on rebuttal (totals are 25 for the pro-ICWA side before rebuttal and 36 for the anti-ICWA side).

If you are trying to follow along to the audio recording, Duncan was most concerned with commandeering and recent Supreme Court commandeering questions. He also pressed Navajo Nation closely on blood quantum. Smith was the one particularly trying to understand the “exclusive” part of plenary power, and later expressed the belief that Texas dedicates scores of social workers to each child in care. And Jones asked the questions on rebuttal that has led to the most number of texts from attorneys asking me “what the [heck]?!” (which I personally thought Adam Charnes handled admirably, given all the oxygen was completely sucked out of the courtroom in that minute by a collective intake of breath).

Dennis, the judge who wrote the lower panel opinion, was the one the plaintiffs had most difficulty hearing, and was the most supportive of the law. Costa also asked skeptical questions of the plaintiffs, and wanted to know more about redressability.

Given the silence or relative silence of so many judges, it is impossible to make any predictions about the eventual opinion. We heard very little from judges who voted against en banc review in Dollar General (the pro-tribe vote), except Dennis. Elrod and Higginson both asked one question each.

Finally, in a very unscientific scroll through Westlaw, the Fifth Circuit has taken anywhere from 3 months (Moore v. Quarterman) from the granting of en banc review to the opinion to 10 months (Alvarez v. Brownsville). The granting of en banc review of Brackeen was in 11/19, so feel free to speculate amongst yourselves when you think the opinion will come out.

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Déjà vu all over again

Briefing Completed in Advance of This Week’s Oral Arguments in Brackeen [ICWA]

All documents here. Oral arguments are on Wednesday. The Court releases a recording of the arguments which we will publish when available.

Principle Supplemental Briefs:

Appellant Tribes En Banc Brief

Appellant Feds En Banc Brief

2019-12-13 Intervenor Navajo En Banc Brief

Individual Plaintiffs_Supplemental Brief

State_Supplemental Brief

Amicus Briefs pro-ICWA:

States

Indian Law Profs

Tribes and Tribal Orgs

Con Law Profs

Members of Congress Brief

Amicus_Casey_EnBanc

Ablavsky-Originalism Brief

Native Women and ACLU

Amicus Briefs anti-ICWA

CAICW_Amicus

NCLA_Amicus

Ohio_amicus

Project on Fair Representation_amicus

Goldwater Institute, et al_amicus

Amicus Briefs filed in Texas v. Bernhardt [ICWA]

All briefs are here.

Intervening Tribes Press Release (released before the Tribal brief with over 400 tribal signatories):

Majority of U.S. States, 75 Members of Congress and more than 30 Organizations File Amicus Briefs in Support of Native American Families and Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, 26 states and the District of Columbia, 75 members of Congress and more than 30 organizations filed friend-of-the-court briefs before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Brackeen v. Bernhardt. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin, Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill and Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp issued the following statement regarding the amicus briefs:

“We are thrilled to see that more than half of all states across the country, 75 members of Congress and dozens of leading organizations are taking a stand for the best interests of Indian children and families. This continuous support from across the political spectrum is a testament to the critical role that ICWA plays in promoting the stability and security of Indian tribes and families. Together, we are fighting back against the meritless attacks on ICWA. We are confident that the Fifth Circuit will again stand on the side of families and children by upholding the law.”

The Cherokee Nation, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Oneida Nation and Quinault Nation are co-defendants in the case, defending the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) against unwarranted attacks on the law’s constitutionality.

For more than 40 years, ICWA has provided a process for determining the best interests of Indian children in the adoption and foster care systems. The tribes are arguing to defend ICWA alongside the Trump administration, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Interior. The case will be reheard on January 22, 2020.

The amicus briefs filed by the following States – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin – as well as the District of Columbia, can be found here.

The amicus briefs from members of Congress can be found here, and the amicus briefs from leading organizations here.

Amici include organizations and political leaders from across the country spanning the political spectrum, and the U.S. states are represented by attorneys general from both the Republican and Democratic parties. They also include law professors and Native women writing in support of ICWA.

In 2017, individual plaintiffs Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, a couple from Texas, along with the state attorneys general in Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its now-former Secretary Ryan Zinke to challenge ICWA. The Morongo, Quinault, Oneida and Cherokee tribes intervened as defendants in the case, and their recent brief can be found here.

On August 9, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Indian Child Welfare Act is constitutional and serves the best interests of children and families. On October 1, 2019, plaintiffs in Brackeen v. Bernhardt chose to continue their attacks on Indian children and tribal families and requested an en banc rehearing before the Fifth Circuit, which the court granted.

There is broad, bipartisan support against this misguided attack on a law that is crucial for protecting the well-being of Indian children and Indian sovereignty. In addition to states and members of Congress, the Trump administration has strongly defended ICWA and its protections for Indian children, explaining that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate the Tenth Amendment or equal protection laws.

For additional information on this case and the Indian Child Welfare Act please visit: www.ProtectIndianKids.com

Fifth Circuit Grants En Banc Review of Brackeen v. Bernhardt [ICWA]

Here

Tribal Intervenor Statement here:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 7, 2019

Contact: Tania Mercado tmercado@skdknick.com

Native American Tribes Continue to Stand with Indian Children and Families Following Court Decision to Rehear Fifth Circuit Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin, Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill and Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp issued the following statement in response to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to rehear a challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act en banc:

“We never want to go back to the days when Indian children were ripped away from their families and stripped of their heritage. We continue to believe that the Fifth Circuit decision affirming the constitutionality of ICWA was the right decision. While it is unfortunate that the attacks on this critical law continue, we are confident that the court will once again uphold the constitutionality of ICWA, as courts have repeatedly done over the past 40 years. ICWA provides a process for determining the best interests of Indian children in the adoption and foster care systems, which is why it is overwhelmingly supported across the political spectrum. We remain devoted in our efforts to defend ICWA because our number one priority remains fighting for the wellbeing, health and safety of children and families.”

In 2017, individual plaintiffs Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, a couple from Texas, along with the state attorneys general in Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its now-former Secretary Ryan Zinke to challenge ICWA. The Morongo, Quinault, Oneida and Cherokee tribes intervened as defendants in the case Brackeen v. Bernhardt.

In October 2018, a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas struck down much of ICWA. Defendants appealed the lower court’s decision and asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the decision. Last December, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay requested by the defendants, putting a hold on the ruling. In March 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from plaintiffs and defendants in the Brackeen case.

On August 9, 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that the Indian Child Welfare Act is constitutional and serves the best interests of children and families. On October 1, 2019, plaintiffs in Brackeen v. Bernhardt chose to continue their attacks on Indian children and tribal families and requested an en banc rehearing before the Fifth Circuit.

There is broad, bipartisan support against this misguided attack on a law that is crucial for protecting the well-being of Indian children and Indian sovereignty. A total of 21 attorneys general, representing a broad range of states, filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants, arguing that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate the Tenth Amendment or equal protection laws. The Trump administration has also reiterated its support for ICWA, tribal sovereignty and the safety of Indian children.

An additional 325 tribes, 57 tribal organizations, members of Congress, Indian law and constitutional law scholars, and 30 leading child welfare organizations have also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the defendants.

For additional information on this case and the Indian Child Welfare Act please visit: http://www.ProtectIndianKids.com.

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As Expected, Criminal Defendant Cites Brackeen to Attack Major Crimes Act

Here is the opening brief in United States v. Jim (10th Cir.):

Jim Opening Brief

appellee-brief-1.pdf

reply-5.pdf

An excerpt:

There is reason to believe that the Supreme Court may be open to revisiting its holding in Antelope, and may soon have the opportunity to cast doubt on the continued vitality of Antelope. In a case unrelated to the Major Crimes Act, the Court struck down a statute that created a voting qualification that, it said, used native Hawai’ian ancestry as “a proxy for race.” Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495, 519-20 (2000). Most recently, and after Mr. Jim’s sentencing hearing in this case, a federal district court struck down the Indian Child Welfare Act as unconstitutional because of the race-based restrictions that it places on foster care and adoption. See Brackeen v. Zinke, 338 F. Supp. 3d 514 (N.D. Tex. 2018). The court focused on the fact that the statute based Indian classification on blood, and did not “rely on actual tribal membership,” to distinguish Mancari. Id. at 533. As is clear from the appellate docket in the Fifth Circuit, Case No. 18-11479, the district court’s ruling has generated significant interest among law makers, tribal governments, non-profits, and Indian law scholars, all of whom have submitted amicus briefs. The Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in the case on March 13 of this year. See Docket entry of March 13, 2019, Brackeen v. Barnhard, app. pending, Case No. 18-11479 (5th Cir.); Andrew Westney, “Texas AG Lauds Child Welfare Ruling, but Tribes Cry Foul,” Law360 (March 4, 2019), at https://www.law360.com/articles/1134688. Ultimately, if the district court’s decision is preserved by the Supreme Court, that would significantly undermine Antelope and open the Major Crimes Act to challenge on these grounds.

Briefing Completed in Brackeen v. Bernhardt (frmly Zinke) in the Fifth Circuit [ICWA Case]

Oral arguments are March 13.

Principal Briefs on the Tribal Defendant/Intervenor and Federal Side (Pro-ICWA)

Appellant Tribes Brief

Appellant Federal Parties

Navajo Nation Motion to Intervene and Proposed Brief

Amicus Briefs, Pro-ICWA

Congressional Amicus Brief

Constitutional Law Profs Brief

Casey Family Programs and Thirty Child Welfare Organizations Amicus Brief

21 State Attorneys General Amicus Brief

Indian Law Scholars Amicus Brief

325 Tribal Governments and 57 Tribal Organizations Amicus Brief

Prof. Ablavsky Amicus Brief

UKB Amicus Brief

Native American Women’s Amicus Brief

Principal Briefs on the State and Individual Plaintiff side (Anti-ICWA)

AppelleeStateBrief

IndividualPlaintiffBrief

Amicus Briefs (Anti-ICWA)

ChristianAllianceAmicus

ProjectonFairRepresentationAmicus

Goldwater Cato AAAA Amicus

OhioAmicusBrief

Reply Briefs by Tribal Intervenors and Federal Government

Appellant Tribes’ Reply Brief

Federal Reply Brief

Intervenor Navajo Nation Reply Brief

 

Media Statements and News Articles on Fifth Circuit ICWA Case

Quote from Intervening Tribes Statement:

We applaud the broad coalition of federal lawmakers, attorneys general from 21
states, and 30 child welfare organizations who have joined 325 Tribal governments and 57 Tribal organizations in filing numerous amicus briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to defend the Constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).

The past 96 hours have witnessed an unprecedented and overwhelming demonstration of support for ICWA and its constitutionality as a wave of amicus briefs were filed urging the Fifth Circuit to reverse the district court’s ruling in Brackeen v. Zinke, which erroneously deemed key provisions of ICWA as being
unconstitutional.

Passed more than 40 years ago by Congress, ICWA was designed to reverse decades of cultural insensitivity and political bias that had resulted in one-third of all Indian children being forcibly removed by the government from their families, their tribes and their cultural heritage.

ICWA ensures the best interests and wellbeing of Native American children are protected. ICWA preserves the stability and cohesion of Tribal families, Tribal communities and Tribal cultures. It maintains and reinforces the political and cultural connections between an Indian child and his or her tribe.

 

Statements here

Articles here (and some are behind paywalls)