Attorney General Bonta Applauds U.S. Supreme Court for Upholding Key Law Protecting Rights of Native American Children, Families, and Tribes

Oakland, CA…California Attorney General Rob Bonta today applauded a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting a constitutional challenge to longstanding protections guaranteed to Native American children, their families, and tribal communities under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In August 2022, Attorney General Bonta led a bipartisan coalition of 24 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief in Haaland v. Brackeen urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the law. ICWA is a critical framework for managing state-tribal relations, protecting the rights of Native American children, and preventing the unwarranted removal of Native American children from their families and tribal communities.

“Today’s decision is a victory for Native American families,” said Attorney General Bonta. “I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act, and rejecting a challenge to the law. ICWA will continue to safeguard Native American children so that they can remain with their families, connected to their culture and as part of their respective tribes.”

Congress enacted ICWA in response to a serious and pervasive problem: States and private parties were initiating state child-custody proceedings that removed Native American children from the custody of their parents – often without good cause – and placed them in the custody of non-tribal adoptive and foster homes. That practice not only harmed children, their families, and their tribal communities, it also posed an existential threat to the continuity and vitality of Indian tribes. To address this, Congress established minimum federal standards governing the removal of Native American children who are members of federally recognized tribes, or eligible for such membership, from their families. ICWA’s provisions safeguard the rights of Native American children, parents, and tribes in state child-custody proceedings, and seek to promote the placement of Native American children with members of their extended families or with other tribal homes. The law’s approach is tailored to the unique status of Native Americans as a sovereign entity with their own political institutions. In the more than four decades since Congress enacted ICWA, the statute has become the foundation of state-tribal relations in the realm of child custody and family services.

In the amicus brief filed last August, Attorney General Bonta and the coalition argued that:

  • ICWA is a critical tool for protecting Native American children and fostering state-tribal collaboration.
  • ICWA is a valid exercise of Congress’s powers over tribal affairs in response to unwarranted removals that imperiled relations with Native American tribes and threatened their existence.
  • ICWA’s provisions do not violate the “anti-commandeering” doctrine, which prohibits Congress from issuing direct commands to state governments.
  • ICWA’s preferences for the adoptive and foster-care placement of the Native American children to whom it applies do not violate equal protection

A copy of the opinion is here.

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