Supreme Court hears case of adopted girl returned to biological dad through Indian Child Welfare Act

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to longstanding federal law on the adoption of Native American children.

On Tuesday, the court takes up the case of a South Carolina family fighting for custody of their adopted daughter. The couple adopted the girl several years ago, but her biological father argued in court that her mother gave her up without his consent. The state Supreme Court sided with the father -- a member of the Cherokee Nation who'd never met the girl. She was returned to him in Oklahoma.

At issue is the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that gives tribes and relatives a say in decisions affecting children with Native American heritage. More than a dozen states have filed briefs supporting the law.

Cherokee Nation assistant attorney general Chrissi Ross Nimmo is part of Dusten Brown's legal team, the biological father of 3-year-old Veronica.

Nimmo says the Supreme Court's ruling is not only critical to Veronica's future because it will determine who will raise her, but also for American Indian tribes around the country who rely on the Indian Child Welfare Act to protect their families.

"Tribes have had to deal with a lot in the history of the United States. They lost land, they lost resources and this is the last straw and tribes really see this as people are taking our children," she said.

Veronica, who was returned to Brown New Year's Eve 2011, is blossoming with her family, according to Nimmo.

"She is a happy, healthy toddler. She's very much a ham. She likes to be the center of attention," she said.

"If you saw her with her family and you didn't know what had happened in this case, you wouldn't think that she was anything other than a little girl with her family."

2NEWS spoke with an attorney representing the adoptive parents. They declined comment for this story.

Nimmo says a Supreme Court decision could be issued mid-summer.

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