Native American Tribes Applaud United States Supreme Court Decision to Deny Review of Anti-ICWA Case

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Cherokee Nation, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Oneida Nation and Quinault Indian Nation applauded the U.S. Supreme Court decision to deny the Goldwater Institute’s petition for a writ of certiorari in Carter v. Sweeney. This case began in 2015 in Arizona as a class action challenge by opponents of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) represented by the Goldwater Institute in an attempt to strike down the law and attack child welfare policies impacting the Navajo Nation and the Gila River Indian Community.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in yet another case that sought to strike down ICWA speaks volumes on the misguided nature of the Goldwater Institute’s attacks on this important law. This decision is a victory for Indian children who depend on this process to remain close to their families, heritage and culture. ICWA is supported by a wide range of experts and officials because the lives and futures of Indian children are too important to allow baseless attacks on their well-being to prevail. We want to thank the Trump administration and to everyone who defends the constitutionality of ICWA wherever it is threatened and children are put at risk,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin, Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill and Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp.

The Ninth Circuit court has previously ruled against the Goldwater Institute’s appeal in this case after the district court dismissed the case for lack of standing because the plaintiffs failed to allege any facts demonstrating that their injuries were traceable to ICWA or that ICWA applied to the foster/adoptive parents and Indian children serving as plaintiffs.

In January 2019, the plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of certiorari and yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider this case effectively bringing the Goldwater Institute’s case to an end in a victory for all Native American tribes and supporters of ICWA.

The Native American tribes responding to this news today intervened in a separate ICWA case currently before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In 2017, individual plaintiffs Chad and Jennifer Brackeen, a couple from Texas, along with the state attorneys general in Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its now-former Secretary Ryan Zinke to challenge ICWA. The Morongo, Quinault, Oneida and Cherokee tribes intervened as defendants in the case Brackeen v. Bernhardt.

In October 2018, a federal judge in the Northern District of Texas struck down much of ICWA. Defendants appealed the lower court’s decision and asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse the decision. Last December, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay requested by the defendants, putting a hold on the ruling. In March 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments from plaintiffs and defendants in the Brackeen case.

There is broad, bipartisan support against this misguided attack on a law that is crucial for protecting the well-being of Indian children and Indian sovereignty. A total of 21 attorneys general, representing a broad range of states, filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants, arguing that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate the Tenth Amendment or equal protection laws. The Trump administration has also reiterated its support for ICWA, tribal sovereignty and the safety of Indian children.

An additional 325 tribes, 57 tribal organizations, members of Congress, Indian law and constitutional law scholars, and 30 leading child welfare organizations have also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the defendants.