SCOTUS hears oral arguments on Indian Child Welfare case

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments for a case challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act, which dictates how Native children are placed in foster or adoptive homes.

Tribal experts, leaders and advocates said the case has huge implications for the future of federal Indian law and tribal sovereignty. 

Known as ICWA, the law aims to protect Native children by giving their tribe and family opportunities to participate in adoption and foster-care decisions from which they may have previously been excluded. Enacted in 1978, ICWA came in response to decades of state child welfare and private adoption agencies separating Native children from their families.

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According to ICWA, in the adoptive placement of a Native child, preference should be given to a member of the child’s extended family, other members of the child’s tribe or other Native families. If those options are not possible, the child can be placed with a non-Native agency.

In Brackeen v. Haaland, challengers to the law argue, among other things, that ICWA is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on race. Defendants disagree. They say the law is based on tribal citizenship, which is a political classification, not

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