Native American families experienced a major legal victory this week, as a federal court judge threw out a case that attempted to argue ICWA violated the civil rights of Indian parents. United States District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee dismissed the lawsuit, initially filed by the National Council For Adoption Attorneys, which sought to decimate the Department of Justice’s recent release of stronger ICWA guidelines.
The tough new federal guidelines were crafted and released in part as a response to South Dakota’s systematic and willful violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act for the better part of two decades. They are intended to create a protocol that keeps Indian children within their family, tribe and culture, whenever possible. The Lakota People’s Law Project hailed the release of the guidelines as a long-overdue step necessary to protect Indian families and their cultural heritage. So why would someone attack guidelines put in place to protect families? Who would bring a lawsuit to federal court demanding that these protections be revoked?
Enter the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, and their thinly disguised lobbying arm, the National Council For Adoption Attorneys. These groups stand to profit immensely from a repeal of ICWA, as this would allow for vulnerable Native children to be plucked from their families and quickly adopted by non Natives without any oversight or special procedure. Expediting the process of adoption is directly in the financial interest of AAAA, because it means more children will be removed and adopted, and therefore more attorneys will get paid.
Last week, on Dec. 9, their efforts to dismantle Native Families faced a resounding defeat.
Not only did Judge Lee dismiss the case on technical grounds, i.e. lack of court jurisdiction, but he also repudiated the notion that the guidelines are non-binding interpretive rules and are thus not subject to adjudication.
Furthermore, Judge Lee ruled against the plaintiff’s claim that the guidelines commandeered state authority relative to ICWA implementation, violated equal protection, due process or Indian Commerce Clause claims.
“This ruling is nothing short of an utter humiliation of the attorneys of the AAAA who tried to simply manufacture constitutional claims to mask their utter mercenary objectives,” said Attorney Daniel Sheehan, Chief Counsel for Lakota People’s Law Office in South Dakota. “Rarely does one see a legal complaint so decisively crushed by a federal court, especially when the plaintiff is backed by such wealthy sponsors,” Sheehan continued. “To see a case get dismissed without any oral arguments on both technical grounds and the merits demonstrates not only the flimsy nature of the legal grounds cited, but also the clumsiness of the crass legal maneuverings and utter lack of moral clarity on the part of those who were behind this ill-advised legal gambit.”
Oddly enough, the summarily dismissed case is one of a series of virtually identical cases filed across the country that seek to dismantle important provisions of ICWA.
Three additional federal cases filed virtually simultaneously with this Virginia case, in Arizona, Oklahoma and in Minnesota, similarly seek to undermine the federal government’s recently-increased effort to enforce ICWA. All of them were filed by AAAA affiliated attorneys. These cases are still pending
“These attempts by these adoption attorney organizations are simply self-serving,” Sheehan said. “These adoption attorneys sought out poor young Indian mothers who would agree to submit to their extremely esoteric legal maneuverings for one purpose — so they could continue to enrich themselves at the expense of Indian culture, heritage and families.”
In fact, LPLP has uncovered evidence that shows that the National Council for Adoption is nothing more than a front organization for the group of AAAA attorneys seeking to clear the way for their profit-driven motives. On Friday March 27, 2015, in a webinar titled “A Call to Action Regarding the BIA Guidelines”, former AAAA President Laurie Goldheim revealed the organization was planning a multi-pronged attack on the law. She went on to advocate for legal assaults not only on ICWA guidelines, but on the legality of ICWA itself. She also suggested that the group increase lobbying efforts in Washington D.C to force a “political” solution to their problem, essentially meaning they want to attempt to coerce, influence and persuade elected officials to scrap a decades old law protecting vulnerable American Indian families.
“The Indian child adoption industry in America is a lucrative one and, like any industry, it requires a steady flow of raw materials,” said Sheehan. “In this case, in order to keep the profits flowing, these well-heeled adoption attorneys need Indian children to be adopted. And these tough new ICWA guidelines make it harder for these professional vultures, with the help of corrupt state officials, to defy the federal law by stealing Indian children from their families. So, of course, they are going to do everything in their power to combat these new guidelines.”
Fortunately, Judge Lee saw the ulterior motives behind this disgraceful case and dismissed it, but we must remain vigilant as the AAAA steps up its attacks on ICWA, and Native American families.