| Arizona Republic
Republic series explores Arizona child-welfare system
Reporter Mary Jo Pitzl outlines The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com’s series examining child-welfare. David Wallace/The Republic
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has dismissed a case challenging a federal law that requires Native American children removed from their parents to be placed with a Native family.
The court’s ruling comes in a case brought by the Goldwater Institute on behalf of several Arizona couples as well as children’s advocates standing up for Native American children living off-reservation.
The appeals court determined that since the four children at issue in the case have been adopted — in these cases by non-Native parents — the constitutional challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act is moot.
But Goldwater attorney Timothy Sandefur said the very fact that the families had to endure a “great deal of struggle and stress” to become adoptive parents underscores their argument that the act violates the constitutional rights to equal protection under the law.
“There are families out there that are willing to take care of these kids, and the federal government says ‘no’ because of race,” he said. The federal law puts major obstacles in the path of non-Native people who want to adopt Native children who do not live on tribal lands, he said.
Besides those obstacles, some of which revolve around race, the Arizona couples who brought the initial lawsuit had to fight in state courts for the right to adopt the children, Sandefur said. That required extra time, expense and heartache.
Sandefur said the institute will likely file for an en banc review before the San Francisco-based appeals court but said they want to see the outcome of a similar case before a federal court in Texas.
Sandefur also had harsh words for state officials, who, along with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, defended the case. “The state has no business whatsoever blocking placement of children in non-Native homes,” he said.
In a statement, Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office said it recognizes the “unique interest” Native American children have to stay with their families and remain connected to tribal communities, wherever safely possible.
“In defending ICWA, we are defending the rights of Native American children to not be forced into unwanted assimilation by the U.S. government,” the statement read.
It noted the contrast with the Goldwater Institute’s position, given Barry Goldwater voted for the act when he was a U.S. senator.
Attorneys for the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs did not immediately return a call for comment.
Reach the reporter at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @maryjpitzl
About this report
Adoption of Native American children is just one of the many complex issues of child welfare in Arizona. A three-year grant from the Arizona Community Foundation supports in-depth research on the topic at The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com.
Are you part of the child welfare system? We want to understand your story. Go to childwelfare.azcentral.com.