ACLU Applauds the Supreme Court’s Decision Upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today issued a landmark victory for tribal sovereignty by rejecting all the constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), legislation that seeks to ensure that Native families stay together, and that Native children are raised by tribal members. As Justice Gorsuch’s concurrence explains, this is a critical law designed to halt horrific government practices that had torn Native families apart and intentionally undermined tribal  sovereignty.

This decision recognizes the centuries-long history of Native child removal pursuant to state and federal policies, but the work is far from over. Today, states still continue to remove Native children from their families and tribes at alarmingly high rates. Fourteen states, including California, have already incorporated ICWA protections into their own codes, and several more states are poised to do the same.

“Tribes have a fundamental right to govern themselves and make decisions on issues that affect their own people — including Native children — without interference from federal or state governments,” said Crystal Pardue, staff attorney in the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Native families have a right to stay together, care for their children, and preserve tribal culture by ensuring access to their cultural identity, language, and heritage. We call on every remaining state to stand with Indigenous governments by passing their own state ICWAs now.” 

“Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling is a major victory for tribes in California and across the nation, and most importantly, it is a victory for tribal children, tribal families and the future of tribal nations. Today’s ruling was especially meaningful for California, which hears the most ICWA-related cases per year as home to the nation’s largest Native American population,” said Maryann McGovran, chairwoman of the California Tribal Families Coalition, an organization of more than 50 tribes and tribal groups from across the state.

“All 109 of the federally-recognized tribes in California united with national child welfare advocates, constitutional scholars, bipartisan elected leaders, and over 375 tribes from across the country to voice strong support of ICWA before the Supreme Court. The ICWA is and will remain the gold standard of child welfare law. Today, the Court acted in accordance with the U.S. Constitution and centuries of legal precedent. The California Tribal Families Coalition is hopeful that this decision will bring an end to the baseless political attacks levied by those whose sole aim is to undermine tribal sovereignty by attacking ICWA and the most vulnerable tribal citizens, our children.” 

An amicus brief in Brackeen v. Haaland was filed by the ACLU, ACLU of NorCal, ACLU of Alaska, ACLU of Arizona, ACLU of Maine, ACLU of Montana, ACLU of Nebraska, ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU of Oklahoma, ACLU of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming chapter, ACLU of Texas, ACLU of Utah, and ACLU of Washington.


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