Federal Appeals Court Overturns Ruling Against Indian Child Welfare Act

A three judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans overturned a lower court ruling that declared the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) unconstitutional. ICWA is a 1978 federal law that established a preference for Native American children to remain with their families or other recognized members of their tribe.

The original ruling by a federal judge in Fort Worth was based on efforts by a Fort Worth couple to adopt a Native American child, which they have since done. The lower court’s ruling found ICWA unconstitutional, in violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution, by virtue of the law creating a racial preference. The appellate court found the classification of Native American children was not based on race, but rather a political classification based on the historical status and relationship of the United States to Native American tribes.

“We conclude that the special treatment ICWA affords Indian children is rationally tied to Congress’s fulfillment of its unique obligation toward Indian nations and its stated purpose of protecting the best interests of Indian children and promoting the stability and security of Indian tribes,” Judge James Dennis wrote for the court’s three-judge panel.

It is anticipated that Attorney General Paxton will appeal this most recent ruling to the full 5th Circuit. For further details on this case see this article from the Texas Tribune or this article from the Austin American Statesman.