Native American Tribes Condemn Attorney General Paxton’s Unlawful Disregard for Indian Children’s Right to Privacy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Quinault Nation, Oneida Nation and Cherokee Nation Indian Tribes issued statements condemning Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s disrespect for the privacy of Indian children and families by blatantly violating a child’s right to privacy. Using children to score political points as part of his campaign to attack Indian children, families, and tribal sovereignty, Attorney General Paxton posted the identity of a child in the rush to generate press for himself.

On March 1, 2019, Attorney General Paxton attached a court filing to a press statement which was issued electronically to media outlets across the state, to the public, and posted online without redacting the name of a minor and other identifying details in an order related to a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). State and federal law requires that sensitive information including the names of minors be redacted when documents are made public. Attorney General Paxton’s blatant violation of these critical privacy laws further illustrates his disregard for the safety and welfare of Indian children.

“Texas Attorney General Paxton should be ashamed of himself for exposing this baby’s name in his rush to issue a press release about his politically motivated attack on the Indian Child Welfare Act,” said Morongo Band of Mission Indians Chairman Robert Martin.

“It’s disheartening that Attorney General Paxton has failed to consider the implications of his actions and what they mean for children everywhere. We look forward to defending the constitutionality of ICWA because we know that ICWA ensures children can stay within their tribal community—an essential component of nurturing their cultural identity and ensuring the health and welfare of tribes,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.

“In blatantly disregarding privacy laws that protect children in legal proceedings Attorney General Paxton proved once again that his political maneuvers to remove Indian children from their family and cultural identity and attack tribal sovereignty are reminiscent of the repudiated abuses that led Congress to enact the Indian Child Welfare Act four decades ago,” said Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill.

“Attorney General Paxton is advancing a political agenda in the court of public opinion and is intent on destroying the lives of Native children and entire Nations.  He does not care about the best interest of Native children, his goal is to remove Native children from their families and their communities by challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act — viewed by child welfare professionals as the gold standard for the protection of children and their families,” said Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp.

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 Texas 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.

There is broad, bipartisan support against this misguided attack on a law that is crucial for protecting the wellbeing of Indian children and Indian sovereignty. A total of 21 Attorneys General filed an amicus brief in support of the defendants, arguing that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress’s broad 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. Oral arguments in this case are scheduled for March 13, 2019.