NCAI press release:
Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Veronica Brown
Statement of Support Issued by Tribal Governments and Leading Native American, Civil Rights, Child Welfare and Legal Advocates along with Arizona and New Mexico State Attorneys General to Stop Violation of “Baby Veronica’s” Civil Rights by South Carolina Courts
Washington, DC (July 31, 2013) - Today, the Native American Rights Fund filed a complaint in the United States District Court in South Carolina to protect the civil rights of Veronica Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who has been denied due process in the South Carolina courts. The filing comes after the South Carolina Supreme Court issued two controversial orders to the state’s family court on July 17 and 24, calling for the removal of Veronica from her father and a transfer her to the adoptive couple without a hearing of best interest.
The lawsuit was supported in a national statement released today by a broad coalition of civil rights, child welfare, adoption advocates, legal authorities, tribal governments, and Native American advocacy groups. These groups and individuals joined with the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund, and National Indian Child Welfare Association in releasing the national statement of support for Veronica’s civil rights, and the rights of all children, to a hearing of best interest.
The litigation was filed on behalf of Veronica, by Angel Smith, an attorney appointed as counsel for the child by the courts of the Cherokee Nation, in U.S. District Court in South Carolina, and asks the Court to determine whether Veronica has a constitutionally protected right to a meaningful hearing in the state courts to determine what is in her best interests. Furthermore, the litigation asserts that Veronica, as an “Indian child” under the Indian Child Welfare Act, has a federally protected right to have the state courts fully consider and appropriately weigh her best interests as an Indian child. Daniel E. Martin, Jr., the judge for the family court system of South Carolina, is named as the defendant in the suit.
According to the filing, Veronica “doubtless has a liberty interest in remaining with her father and such an interest justifies at a minimum a plenary hearing on her current status, her relationships with others and her genuine need for stability… Despite the finding of the family court and the implicit assumption by the Supreme Court of South Carolina that [Veronica’s] best interest would be served by being with her father, two years later the court now determines, despite the passage of time and [Veronica’s] stage of development at age four, that her ‘best’ interests will now be served by being removed from him and given back to the adoptive couple. Again, this order is without any consideration to the present circumstances, psychological and emotional well-being, and future impact on [Veronica]. This is an arbitrary result, depriving [Veronica] of any opportunity to be heard on her own behalf, irrespective of the competing interests of the adult litigants in her young life.”
Broad National Support for the Litigation
Also today, on behalf of broad coalition of civil rights, child welfare, legal authorities, tribal governments and Native American advocacy groups, the National Congress of American Indians, along with the Native American Rights Fund and the National Indian Child Welfare Association released a national statement of support for Veronica’s civil rights to be upheld. The statement of support has been endorsed by a broad coalition of tribal governments, state and federal legal authorities including two state attorneys general – Arizona and New Mexico – civil rights institutions such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, child welfare and adoption organizations including the Child Welfare League of America, and leading national and regional Native advocacy organizations representing the interests of almost every tribe located within the United States (see full list below).
According to the letter:
[T]he rights promised to our children are being compromised in the courts of the State of South Carolina … The recent [South Carolina Supreme Court] ruling in the case denies the basic fundamental right of an almost four-year-old Indian child to a hearing of her ‘best interests’ before removing her from her biological father after almost two years of child-rearing, bonding and establishing a loving home environment. Plainly stated, this is a denial of Veronica’s human rights and constitutional rights to due process as a citizen of the United States.
The following organizations and individuals have signed on to the letter of support for the civil rights lawsuit being filed on behalf of Veronica: Read more of this post
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