As soon as he learned that the girl was being put up for adoption, he began fighting to raise her. He has another child; no one doubts he is a good father.
The matter of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is being closely watched because the reason that Brown--as an unwed father--has any standing at all is because he is a member of the Cherokee Nation. Consequently the court will be ruling once again on the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act.
Here is The Washington Post editorial this morning:
"Yet lawmakers surely did not mean to protect the rights of Native American biological parents to the point that a child’s unwed, absent father can undo an adoption that her biological mother and legal custodian determined to be in her best interests, merely because she has a drop of Native American blood in her.
"If the justices rule against the Capobiancos [the adoptive parents], Congress should step in and fashion some sensible limits to the Indian Child Welfare Act."The New York Times:
While totally ignoring a father's desire to raise his own child, or the right of an individual to be raised by a biological parent, the Times editorial subtley waxes poetic about the "open adoption" that Veronica’s birth mother, Christina Maldonado, entered into with adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco, "allowing the biological mother to visit the adoptive family to see that the child was flourishing." Given what we know about a great many "open adoptions"--that they close up tight--the use of the word "flourishing" indicates just how loverly the editorial board at the Times thinks an open adoption is."Under the laws of both Oklahoma, where the biological mother lives, and South Carolina, a biological father is not allowed to intervene in an adoption once he has given up his parental rights. That’s the law in more than 30 states. But state courts are split over the meaning of “parent” under the Indian Child Welfare Act, and whether the answer should be based on state law."In cases like this one, it makes little sense to allow a biological father who was not in the picture from surfacing belatedly and vetoing an adoption that would be in the best interests of the child. The Supreme Court should reverse the South Carolina State court rulings."
'BABY VERONICA' IS NOW THREE AND A HALF
A positive sign, however, was yesterday's Washington Post story about the case, which fairly presented both sides in this custody battle. We learn that the Copobiancos, after several failed attempts at in-vitro fertilization, turned to adoption. For his part, Dusten Brown told the Post that he tried numerous times to contact Maldonado, as did his parents, but she refused to respond. “She told me she didn’t want to hear from me no more,” Brown said. “It was either respect her wishes or bug her. Honestly, I wish I would have bugged her a lot more.” As he prepared to deploy to Iraq, he was served with adoption papers which he signed, he said, thinking it simply transferred sole custody to Maldonado. NOTE: In a comment I read on the Post site, someone related that Brown signed the adoption-release papers in a parking lot, and as soon as he realized what they were, tried to get them back from the process server.
The story carries a sweet photograph of Brown holding his happy and healthy daughter in her bedroom, recently painted pink and lavender. He married in June and is carrying for the girl with his new wife. The stories about this case duly note that while Mr. Brown is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation, his daughter is 3/256th Cherokee.
Part Cherokee and fully American, Veronica does not look unhappy as she leans on her father's shoulders. If she is returned to the Copobiancos they will be at this point, nearly strangers, as she has been with her father since Dec. 31, 2011, the day the South Carolina Supreme Court determined that she be returned to her natural father. In cases where the adoptive family have possession of the child, usually the media reports harp on how long the child has been with the new family, and dismiss the connection that the child has with her biological family. Indeed, the long story in the Post yesterday noted that Veronica was raised by the Copobiancos for 27 months, and that Matt Copobianco cut the umbilical cord.
PREVENTING THE BREAKUP OF NATIVE AMERICAN FAMILIES
The decision to return Veronica to Brown in 2011 was based on the Indian Child Welfare Act, written to prevent the breakup of Native American families. The law sought to keep Indian families together by erecting barriers to adoption outside the tribe by ending the shameful practice of removing children from their families and tribes, and placing them in foster care or allowing adoptions with non-Indian families.
Only once before has the Supreme Court considered the act in a custody dispute. In 1995 the justices decided that tribes must have the final decision on adoptions involving those who live on reservations. Native American twins had been placed several years earlier with a non-Indian family, and the justices ruled that they should be returned to their tribe. Justice Antonin Scalia has stated over the years that this was one of the toughest decisions he ever had to make.
While the legal decision in this case will turn on upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act, for us keeping a child with a natural biological father who wants her is key. Brown had no attorney representing him; no one made clear to him that his daughter was about to be adopted, something he never wanted. If the small part of Native American blood is the loophole that allows a daughter to be raised by her father, true justice will be served. We speak of justice that goes beyond how much native blood the little girl carries; she is her father's child, and she belongs with him.
NOT FIGHTING FOR THE 'BEST INTERESTS' OF THE CHILD
When adoptive couples such as the Copobiancos continue their fight to raise a child not theirs biologically, when clearly there is a biological father who wants to raise her, it is not the best interests of the child the adoptive parents are fighting for; it is their desire for a child. We do not dismiss that they have grown to love the little girl in the months they raised her, but this is not reason enough to keep her from her father. The Copobiancos desire for a child overshadows what is best for anyone: that unless there are compelling reasons otherwise, a child deserves to be raised by his biological parents.
After the earlier decision about the Native American twins, the tribe couldn’t find an Indian family to raise them, and the children remained with the adoptive parents. Not finding an appropriate Cherokee family will not be a problem in this case. Veronica already has one, her father.---lorraine
ADDITION ON 4/17, from USA Today:
"While Scalia appeared to align himself with the court's three female justices, Roberts was clearly leaning toward the adoptive couple, Melanie and Matt Capobianco. It appeared Roberts had some conservative justices on his side.________________________
"The chief justice, whose two children are adopted, noted Brown had not shown interest in fatherhood or child support until the adoption. He said the law gives undue preference to Native American bloodlines, no matter how marginal.
"When Charles Rothfeld, Brown's lawyer, said the father originally had been "excited" by his fiancée's pregnancy in 2009, Roberts chimed in, "So he was excited by it; he just didn't want to take any responsibility."
Jane wrote about this case before in two posts at FMF:
Returning a child to her father is the right decision
Can the media get adoption right?
Indian Child Welfare Act may need some limits
Editorial: A Wrenching Adoption Case
Baby Veronica’s loved ones wait for the Supreme Court to weigh in
Justices Take Case on Adoption of Indian Child
Does this read like a biased headline?
The Indian Child Welfare Act was intended to prevent the breakup of Native American families and tribes. Has it gone too far?
Worth reading, from Politico:
The adoption industry's ugly side
and from The Atlantic
Indian Affairs, Adoption, and Race: The Baby Veronica Case Comes to Washington
If readers come up with other editorials, we will add them here.
We would love to see one where the opinion is that the child deserves to stay with her father.
One Small Sacrifice: A Memoir: Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects "It's an unforgettable memoir" Award-winning journalist Trace A. DeMeyer's second edition has even more of her remarkable story and the disturbing history of closed adoption used to break up tribal families. ...What is known about the Indian Adoption Projects and the aftermath has been pretty much secret . . . Until now. A reader praised her book: The journey, the courage and openness of your work. It's very inspiring. The way 'Small Sacrifice' shares itself . . . it's as if the book were speaking . . . holding a talking stick with us all gathered in a circle . . . we come together through your sacrifice.--Amazon
The Indian Child Welfare Act Handbook: A Legal Guide to the Custody and Adoption of Native American Children
This is one-of-a-kind guide to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, enacted to ameliorate the problem of the removal of Native American children from their homes by state welfare agencies and private agencies and to ensure that those children would be placed in homes that reflect their cultures and traditions. Now revised and updated, it examines case law from courts around the country-this is not an issue confined to reservations and their border towns. It explains the history of the act and how is applied, as well as its procedural requirements.--Amazon