The little girl whose custody case divided the U.S. Supreme Court last month should be returned to the couple who have attempted to adopt her since birth, South Carolina's highest court ruled Wednesday.
The state Supreme Court, in a 3 to 2 ruling, ordered a family court to finalize the adoption of “Baby Veronica” by Matt and Melanie Capobianco of Charleston, S.C. and to terminate the parental rights of the girl's biological father, Dusten Brown.
That court had earlier ordered the girl removed from the Capobiancos when she was 27 months old to be sent to live with Brown, who is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation.
Brown had given up rights to the girl before she was born, but he later embraced fatherhood. He successfully argued before the South Carolina court that the Indian Child Welfare Act, which erects high hurdles for adoptions outside the tribe, meant the child should be with him.
Veronica's birth mother never married Brown, and she had chosen the Capobiancos to raise the child. Veronica has lived in Oklahoma with Brown and his new wife for the past 18 months.
The case has been a wrenching one that divided the nation, as well as the judges asked to decide where the little girl should live. In a 5 to 4 vote last month, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court said the federal law does not apply when “the parent abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child.”
Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said the act was designed to “preserve the cultural identity and heritage of Indian tribes,” not to “put certain vulnerable children at a great disadvantage solely because an ancestor – even a remote one – was an Indian.”
The South Carolina court cited the Supreme Court's action in its Wednesday order and told a family court to promptly approve the Capobiancos' adoption of Veronica. It noted that Brown has filed litigation in Oklahoma and with a tribal council to stop the adoption but said South Carolina retains the case.
Using the moniker of “Baby Girl” that has been employed throughout the legal wrangling over the nearly 4-year-old child, the South Carolina court majority said, “There is absolutely no need to compound any suffering that Baby Girl may experience through continued litigation.”
The two dissenting justices said the family court should decide what is best for Veronica and that the state Supreme Court should not order the immediate transfer of the child, no longer an infant or toddler, “without regard to whether such an abrupt transfer would be in the child's best interest.”
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