COLUMBIA — Several American Indian groups said Monday they are preparing to sue over a court’s decision to allow the adoption of a girl of Cherokee heritage by a Charleston-area couple, saying recent court rulings don’t take the girl’s best interest into account.
“Individual Indians are afforded all the same rights that every citizen within this union are afforded – the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, said on a conference call with reporters. “Our intention is to pursue a lawsuit related to any violations of Veronica Brown’s civil rights in this case.”
Pata’s group, along with the Native American Rights Fund and the National Indian Child Welfare Association, said they will pursue a federal case to try to protect the best interests of the girl. She is now 3 years old and is living with her biological father in Oklahoma.
The groups said they will act if the South Carolina Supreme Court refuses a request to rehear arguments on its own decision, issued last week, to finalize the girl’s adoption by Matt and Melanie Capobianco. The Charleston-area couple raised the girl for the first 27 months of her life and have been seeking to adopt the girl ever since.
Also Monday, the Cherokee Nation announced it filed a petition for rehearing the case, saying the decision by the South Carolina court was “troubling.”
The case over where Veronica will live, and with whom, has been ongoing for years.
South Carolina courts originally said the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act favored her living with her biological father, Dusten Brown. That federal law seeks to keep Indian children from being taken from their homes and placed with non-Indian adoptive or foster parents
A member of the Cherokee Nation, Brown had never met his daughter. After the girl’s non-Indian mother rebuffed his marriage proposal, he played no role during the pregnancy and paid no child support after the girl was born. But when Brown found out Veronica was going to be adopted, he objected and said the law favored the girl living with him and growing up learning tribal traditions.
Brown took custody in 2011. The Capobiancos appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last month, the nation’s high court ruled that South Carolina courts should decide who gets to adopt the girl, a determination the state court made last week.
But before anything should happen, the groups said Monday, a hearing needs to be held to determine what is in the best interest of Veronica, who has now been with her biological father in Oklahoma for more than a year and a half.
“We strongly believe that federal civil rights laws are being violated,” said John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund.
“It is ludicrous to suggest that the folks who are holding her unlawfully – and without allowing any visitation, denying repeated requests – should profit from that behavior and continue to deny Veronica the homecoming that has already been ordered by the South Carolina Supreme Court,” said Lori McGill, the attorney representing the birth mother. “The fact is that only three people in the world have ever had any legal custody of Veronica – her birth mother, Christy, and Matt and Melanie Capobianco, whom she handpicked.”
The statement from the Cherokee Nation said the motion asked the court to reconsider its July 17 order.
“It is very troubling that the South Carolina Supreme Court would move to terminate the parental rights of a man who has proved to be nothing but a fit and loving father, without even holding a hearing to determine what is in his own child’s best interests,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
“What is best for Veronica has not even been considered by the court. We pray the South Carolina Supreme Court grants our request for a due process hearing to determine what is in this child’s best interests,” Baker said.