Washington Supreme Court Explicitly Rejects Existing Indian Family Exception


In only the third Washington Supreme Court case to directly interpret ICWA and the first to interpret WICWA, the Court holds In re Crews (the case that established EIF in Washington) is overturned.

Under our above interpretation of ICWA and WICWA, if a case (1) meets the definition of a “child custody proceeding” and (2) involves an Indian child, both acts shall apply. ICWA and WICWA recognize only two exceptions to coverage–delinquency
proceedings and custody disputes following divorce where one parent retains custody of the Indian child. Our interpretation therefore overrules Crews to the extent that it embraced the existing Indian family exception because it recognizes no additional exceptions to coverage outside of the two expressly stated in ICWA and WICWA.

ICWA and WICWA also apply based on the child’s membership, not the parent’s:

For these reasons, we hold that whether the parent whose rights are being terminated is non-Indian is immaterial to a finding that ICWA and WICWA apply. If the child at issue is an Indian child and that child is involved in a child custody proceeding, ICWA and WICWA shall apply.

Craig Dorsay represented the tribal amicus brief (including oral arguments), and NARF and Indian Law Clinic at MSU Law provided strategy and research support in this case. Previous coverage here.

Two Recent State Supreme Court Oral ICWA Arguments

Here is the argument for In re B.B. case in the Utah Supreme Court, where the unmarried Native father appealed the trial court’s decision denying him intervention in a voluntary adoption case, primarily based on Utah’s definition of paternity. Father is asking the state to interpret “acknowledge and establish” under ICWA broadly. The Utah Court of Appeals sent it on directly to the Supreme Court with no decision.

Here is the argument for In re T.A.W. in the Washington Supreme Court, addressing the issue of applying WICWA to step-parent adoption proceedings, particularly the requirement of active efforts. Here is the decision being appealed.