Martin Guggenheim '71 joins amicus brief in Supreme Court adoption case

Martin Guggenheim ’71, Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law, joined an amicus brief, along with other attorneys serving as counsel for child welfare organizations, in the case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, which the U.S. Supreme Court heard earlier this month.

Martin Guggenheim '71

The case involves the South Carolina Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). That court ruled to dismiss an adoption proceeding filed by a South Carolina couple. The couple, who are not Native American, took custody of the child three days after her birth in September 2009 and subsequently moved her from Oklahoma back to their home in South Carolina. Four months later the child’s biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, who had been estranged from the birth mother, was notified of the couple’s intention to adopt. Although he had previously renounced his parental rights, he had done so under the assumption that the biological mother would raise his child, so after learning of the adoption he began an attempt to regain custody. Now the Supreme Court must consider whether an unwed biological father can use the ICWA, a federal law, to block the adoption of his daughter and have her returned to him permanently; the law’s original intent was to address the high rate of removal of Native American children from their homes and, at the same time, from their tribal culture, since the majority went to non-Native American families.

Following the ruling of the South Carolina Supreme Court, the adoptive couple turned the girl over to the father’s custody at the end of 2011; she currently remains with him. The amicus brief argues in support of the biological father, asserting that “the child welfare standards embodied in ICWA enforce the best child welfare practices of transparency, stability, and supporting, developing, maintaining, and preserving the relationships between children and their loving and fit birth parents, up until the moment that those birth relationships are permanently severed and a new family is created.”

Posted on April 30, 2013