Supreme Court Rules Against Oklahoma Man in Adoption Case

Veronica with her biological father, Dusten (Courtesy: Cherokee Nation)

The Supreme Court has ruled against an Oklahoma man in a custody dispute over his daughter.

The Baby Veronica case caught national attention and ignited a debate over the Indian Child Welfare Act.

In a decision handed down Tuesday morning, Justice Alito said the girl's classification as an Indian because she is 3/256ths Cherokee was not grounds enough for her to be taken "from the only parents she had ever known and handed over to her biological father, who had attempted to relinquish his parental rights and who had no prior contact with the child."

The High Court overturned the South Carolina Supreme Court. Now the case will head back into South Carolina family courts where they will decide what is in the best interests of Veronica, who has been living with her biological father since December 2011.

Alito said in his majority opinion that the involuntary termination of parental custody law does not apply when the parent never had custody.

"Finally, we clarify that 1915(a), which provides placement preferences for the adoption of Indian children, does not bar a non-Indian family like Adoptive Couple from adopting an Indian child when no other eligible candidates have sought to adopt the child," Alito penned.

Alito, joined by Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer, said three provisions of the ICWA law applied to the case, but said that because of the biological father's text message consenting to give up his parental rights, the ICWA claim was rendered moot.

After Veronica's birth, the South Carolina family, the Capobiancos, served the biological father with a notice of intent to adopt. He claimed in filings that he was unclear on what he was surrendering his rights, the birth mother or the Capobiancos, which triggered the custody battle in South Carolina state courts.

That's when the ICWA first came into question.

"The State Supreme Court first determined that the ICWA applied because the case involved a child custody proceeding relating to an Indian child," Alito wrote. "It is undisputed that, had Baby Girl not been 3/256ths Cherokee, Biological Father would have had no right to object to her adoption under South Carolina law."

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said he is grateful that the court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act, but id disappointed the case was not fully resolved.

"We believe Veronica Brown's best interests are served continuing to live in a loving home with her biological father Dusten Brown," Baker said.

"Keeping Veronica Brown with her family is what's best for her, her family, the Cherokee Nation and all of Indian Country. The Cherokee Nation remains committed to the protection of all Indian children and families."

The Capobiancos have not had contact with Veronica since New Year's Eve 2011 when she was 27 months old.

"This is the best day we've had yet," said Melanie Capobianco Tuesday afternoon. "We're numb in a happy way right now."

When asked if the years long fight was worth it, Matt Capobianco responded, "Oh god, yeah."

Veronica's birth mother, Christy Maldonado, said in a statement Tuesday that she was happy about the Supreme Court's decision.

"Today's opinion makes clear that Veronica's adoption should have been finalized long ago, and gives us all the opportunity to continue fighting for Veronica's best interests. I'm also hopeful it will spare many other children and families the heartbreak that Veronica, the Capobiancos, and I have had to endure," she said.

"Matt and Melanie are part of my family, and they have treated me like part of theirs. I'm hopeful that we will all be reunited with Veronica very soon," Maldonado added.