Adoptive parents want quick high court mandate

Veronica's parents eager for reunion
Veronica's parents eager for reunion

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Story highlights

  • A South Carolina couple adopted a baby born of American Indian parents
  • The biological father sought custody under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act
  • A state court sided with the father, but the Supreme Court ruled for the adoptive parents
  • The adoptive parents are now asking the high court to speed up their reunion with the toddler
Saying they are "eager to reunite" with their adopted American Indian daughter quickly, a South Carolina couple on Thursday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to have its recent ruling go into effect immediately.
Lawyers for Matt and Melanie Capobianco filed a time-sensitive application with Justice Samuel Alito, hoping he will allow the next phase of the legal dispute to begin now. If granted, that would mean a state court could quickly decide temporary custody of the 3-year-old Cherokee girl.
The justices Tuesday ruled for the Charleston, South Carolina, couple in a divisive custody fight over the Native American child after the biological father asserted his parental rights.
The justices, by a 5-4 margin, said the adoption by the white couple was proper and did not intrude on the federal rights of the father, a registered member of the Cherokee tribe, over where his daughter, Veronica, would live.
Typically, high court decisions do not go into effect for at least 25 days, to give the losing side a chance to request a rehearing. A formal mandate is then issued, allowing those rulings to be enforced. An individual justice has to power to shorten the time period.
The adoptive parents say, "Expedition of the mandate will permit proceedings to take place in South Carolina to determine he proper temporary or permanent placement of Baby Girl." The Capobiancos add they have not seen their daughter in 18 months, after they were forced to return the girl.
South Carolina's highest court had earlier ruled for Dusten Brown, the birth father. He currently has custody of little Veronica, and lives in Oklahoma.
In a separate motion, Brown and the Cherokee Nation opposed short-circuiting the 25-day period. They said the high court ruling "creates a complex interrelationship between state and federal law, and are considering what steps are appropriately taken upon remand."
The U.S. high court said the father could not rely on the Indian Child Welfare Act for relief because he never had legal or physical custody at the time of adoption proceedings, which were initiated by the birth mother without his knowledge.
Alito, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion, said when "the adoption of an Indian child is voluntarily and lawfully initiated by a non-Indian parent with sole custodial rights, the (law's) primary goal of preventing unwarranted removal of Indian children and the dissolution of Indian families is not implicated."
The original appeal was filed by the Capobiancos, who legally adopted Veronica in 2009 shortly after the birth mother agreed to give up the child.
She is known in court papers as "Baby Girl."
Brown had sought custody after Veronica's birth, claiming he was misled about the circumstance of the adoption by the birth mother, after they had broken off their relationship.
The ICWA remains in effect, but the high court majority concluded the biological father could not apply it to his circumstances.
The Supreme Court ruling threw the issue back to the state courts, but it was not clear whether and when Brown would have to turn the girl over to the Capobiancos.
There was no indication when Alito or the full court would ruled on the expedited mandate request.
The case is Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, a Minor Child Under the Age of Fourteen Years (12-399).