The Supreme Court has upheld a decades-old federal law that ensures Indigenous children will be kept with their families or tribes during custody disputes.
The court rejected the challenge to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in an overwhelming 7-2 vote. The 1973 law places limitations around when Native children can be removed from their homes, prioritizing placing them with family or in foster homes within their tribes as a way to preserve their culture.
The challengers — three White foster couples — claimed that the ICWA exceeded Congress’ authority, and that even if it didn't, it discriminated against them on the grounds of race. Several conservative Justices did not find their arguments compelling, with only Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissenting.
"The bottom line is that we reject all of petitioners’ challenges to the statute, some on the merits and others for a lack of standing,” Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the majority opinion. “The racial discrimination they allege counts as an Article III injury. But the individual petitioners have not shown that this injury is ‘likely’ to be ‘redressed by judicial relief. ... ICWA’s recordkeeping requirements are consistent with the Tenth Amendment."
Tribal leaders have praised the rulings as a "major victory' for Native communities and children. Chuck Hoskin Jr., Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, said in a statement that "by ruling on the side of children’s health and safety, the U.S. constitution, and centuries of precedent, the justices have landed on the right side of history."
"Today, the Supreme Court once again ruled that ICWA, heralded as the gold standard in child welfare for over 40 years, is constitutional," he wrote. "Today’s decision is a major victory for Native tribes, children, and the future of our culture and heritage. It is also a broad affirmation of the rule of law, and of the basic constitutional principles surrounding relationships between Congress and tribal nations."
Hoskin concluded: "We hope this decision will lay to rest the political attacks aimed at diminishing tribal sovereignty and creating instability throughout Indian law that have persisted for too long."