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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Another Judge, another ICWA violation in Brackeen v. Bernhardt

Judge: State deference to U.S. law in Native American adoptions is unconstitutional

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A Tarrant County judge on Friday ruled that the state’s requirement for family law judges to apply the federal Indian Child Welfare Act to child custody cases is unconstitutional.

Tarrant County state district judge Alex Kim issued the ruling in response to the adoption of an 8-month-old Native American girl into a non-Native American family.

Chad and Jennifer Brackeen had been seeking to adopt their second Native American child but ran into problems in the court with a portion of the Texas Family Code, which requires that family law judges apply the Indian Child Welfare Act to child custody cases involving Native American children.

State law says judges should should defer to the federal act, which says that placement of Native American children must go first to the child’s extended family, then to other members of the child’s tribe or other Native American families.

Kim said in his decision that the federal law is not applicable in the Brackeens’ case because it is unconstitutional.

On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton lauded the ruling.

Paxton’s office in October 2017 filed a federal lawsuit alongside the Brackeens, challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act is it applies to child custody cases, saying that it places race-based restrictions on the adoption of Native American children and does not consider the best interests of the child.

A U.S. district court the following year ruled the law as applied was unconstitutional. That decision is currently being challenged in the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

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