This should be the end of this litigation (the original 2015 “Goldwater case”), as the Ninth Circuit vacated and remanded the case below to have it dismissed as moot.
This is otherwise known as the Goldwater litigation, the second federal case filed back in 2015 in Arizona.
Documents are here
This case was originally the In re A.D. case, the same A.D. who was the Goldwater Institute’s named plaintiff in Carter (A.D.) v. Washburn (now on appeal to the 9th Circuit). The Goldwater Institute represented the foster parents in this case in the Arizona state court appeals process.
The court of appeals decision denied the transfer to tribal court issue on the question of whether 25 U.S.C. 1911(b) allows transfer of post-termination proceedings. The Arizona Supreme Court also upheld the denial of transfer to tribal court, but walked back some of the more troubling aspects of the court of appeals opinion. Specifically,
Although the court of appeals correctly held that § 1911(b) did not apply here, that court was mistaken in stating that ICWA does not “allow” the transfer of actions “occurring after parental rights have terminated[.]” Gila River Indian Cmty., 240 Ariz. at 389 ¶ 11. By its terms, § 1911(b) provides that a state court must transfer foster care placement or termination-of-parental-rights cases to tribal court unless the state court finds good cause for retaining the case or unless either parent objects to the transfer. Section 1911(b) is silent as to the discretionary transfer of preadoptive and adoptive placement actions, but we do not interpret that silence to mean prohibition. See Puyallup Tribe of Indians v. State (In re M.S.), 237 P.3d 161, 165 ¶ 13 (Okla. 2010) (“Reading what is contained in the statute . . . does not require us to read into the statute what is not there, i.e., that transfers may only be granted if requested before a termination of parental rights proceeding is concluded.”) (emphasis omitted).
When enacting ICWA, Congress recognized, rather than granted or created, tribal jurisdiction over child custody proceedings involving Indian children. See Holyfield, 490 U.S. at 42 (“Tribal jurisdiction over Indian child custody proceedings is not a novelty of the ICWA.”); Indian Child Welfare Act Proceedings, 81 Fed. Reg. 38,778, 38,821–22 (June 14, 2016) (codified at 25 C.F.R. pt. 23) [hereinafter 2016 BIA Final Rule] (noting that Congress, in enacting ICWA, recognized that inherent tribal jurisdiction over domestic relations, including child-custody matters, is an aspect of a “Tribe’s right to govern itself”); Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law 840, 842 (Nell Jessup Newton et al. eds., 12th ed. 2012) (“Before the passage of ICWA, tribes exercised jurisdictional authority over custody of their children,” and § 1911(b) “reflects the legislative compromise made when states and others resisted tribes’ exercise of exclusive jurisdiction over all Indian child custody proceedings.”) (emphasis added).
¶21 Thus, tribes have the inherent authority to hear child custody proceedings involving their own children. By enacting ICWA, Congress recognized that authority and clarified the standards for state courts in granting transfer requests of certain types of cases. As a result, although ICWA does not govern the transfer of preadoptive and adoptive placement actions, state courts may nonetheless transfer such cases involving Indian children to tribal courts.
Finally, contrary to the court of appeals and the foster parents’ arguments, we decline to rely on waiver as a basis for affirming the denial of the Community’s transfer motion. See Gila River Indian Cmty., 240 Ariz. at 391 ¶ 18. The Community did not expressly waive its right to seek transfer; thus, the only waiver here would be implied because the Community did not seek transfer until after parental rights were terminated. However, “[t]o imply a waiver of jurisdiction would be inconsistent with the ICWA objective of encouraging tribal control over custody decisions affecting Indian children.” In re J.M., 718 P.2d 150, 155 (Alaska 1986) (emphasis omitted). Moreover, courts have historically been reluctant to imply a waiver of Indian rights under ICWA. Id.; cf. In re Guardianship of Q.G.M., 808 P.2d 684, 689 (Okla. 1991) (“Because of the ICWA objective to ensure that tribes have an opportunity to exercise their rights under the Act, and because of the plain language of § 1911(c), a tribe’s waiver of the right to intervene must be express.”).
However, the general rule remains (in states without state ICWA laws on point) –transfer petitions made after termination of parental rights will likely remain more difficult to achieve than those made before.
This lawsuit challenged the sections of the Oklahoma state ICWA statute (OICWA) concerning notice and intervention of tribes in voluntary proceedings. This case was first filed back in the summer of 2015. On March 31st, the Court agreed with Cherokee Nation’s most recent motion to dismiss as moot. All documents are here.
This means that of the federal lawsuits filed in the summer of 2015, only one currently survives (the sister suit to this one in Minnesota). It also means we have not received an adverse decision in any of them. This is great news, and a testament to the work of the tribal, federal, and state attorneys who had to defend against these suits.
However, it is also true that the Goldwater Institute has inserted itself into a growing number of state ICWA cases, and those cases are multiplying rapidly at the state level. The stated end goal of the Institute–to have ICWA found unconstitutional–remains, and they have not stopped working towards it.
We will be giving case status updates at both NICWA (Matt Newman, NARF) and the Federal Bar conference (Kate Fort) this year.
Bolick currently represents some non-Indian parents who are suing to overturn the federal Indian Child Welfare Act which requires require state courts when placing Indian children for adoption to give preference to a member of the child’s extended family. That is followed by priority by other members of the child’s tribe and, ultimately, other Indian families. Bolick also named DCS as a defendant because it follows that policy.
Lawsuit documents here, as always.
Plaintiffs in the case also filed their response to DOJ’s motion to dismiss. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for December 18.
Collected filings here.
PDF copy here.
From the end of the article:
An Interior spokeswoman said Congress has determined it “is in the best interests of an Indian child to keep that child…with the child’s parents,” extended family and tribal community.
Kathryn Fort, a lawyer with the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University, defends the law and the guidelines. Ms. Fort said that before the law was passed, social workers would argue that it was in the “best interests” of an Indian child to be permanently removed from a house that was merely messy or lacked the most modern conveniences. “It’s really a way of allowing—and perpetuating—discrimination against Indians,” she said.
Supporters of the law say the adoption delays often required are part of its point. The law “demands excellence in how we treat Indian children,” said Matthew Newman, a staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. “That often requires a bit of time.”
This should be a call to arms for Indian country. This is presumably a well funded organization with a litigation, scholarly, and public relations strategy. Indian country lost Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl because the adoption industry won the PR battle before Indian country even noticed. It’s time to act.
From the press release we received. This will become the third ongoing federal lawsuit challenging ICWA:
Goldwater Institute to File Class Action Lawsuit Against Indian Child Welfare Act
Institute launching Equal Protection for Indian Children Project to reform federal and state laws that discriminate against abused and neglected Native American children
Contact: Starlee Coleman, (602) 758-9162
Phoenix—Tomorrow, Tuesday, July 7, the Goldwater Institute will launch a new project to reform the Indian Child Welfare Act and similar state laws that give abused and neglected Native American children fewer rights and protections than other American children. Part of this project will be a class action lawsuit.
“When an abused child is removed from his or her home and placed in foster care or made available for adoption, judges are required to make a decision about where the child will live based on the child’s best interest. Except for Native American children. Courts are bound by federal law to disregard a Native American child’s best interest and place the child in a home with other Native Americans, even if it is not in his or her best interest,” said Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute. “We want federal and state laws to be changed to give abused and neglected Native American children the same protections that are given to all other American children: the right to be placed in a safe home based on their best interests, not based on their race.”
On July 7, the Goldwater Institute will file a federal class action lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of core provisions of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. The same day, the Institute will release an investigative report that documents how federal law leaves Native American children with fewer protections under the law than all other American children, and the serious consequences that have resulted from this unequal treatment. Recommendations for changes to state and federal law will also be announced.
Two weeks ago both the House and Senate passed the Native American Child Protection Act that for the first time requires prospective adoptive and foster parents to be fingerprinted. The Bureau of Indian Affairs is currently considering turning recent guidelines into formal federal rules that would further entrench the legal discrimination against Native American children.
Clint Bolick, the vice president of litigation at the Goldwater Institute, litigated a class action in Texas in 1995 that was the impetus behind the federal Multi-ethnic Placement Act, which outlawed delays or denials in foster care or adoption placements on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the child or the adults involved.
Media is invited to watch via live stream a press event that will formally announce the details of the lawsuit, release the investigation, and policy recommendations, and screen an original 8-minute documentary film. The briefing will feature Dr. William B. Allen, the former chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
What: Press conference announcing the Equal Protection for Indian Children Project and federal class action lawsuit
When: Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 9:00 a.m. Pacific time
Who: Press event will feature Darcy Olsen, president of the Goldwater Institute; Clint Bolick, the Institute’s vice president of litigation; Mark Flatten, the author of the Institute’s investigative report to be released; Dr. William Allen
Please contact Starlee Coleman at scoleman@goldwaterinstitute or (602) 758-9162 with questions.