COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina Supreme Court denied two appeal petitions Wednesday in the Baby Veronica case, thus opening the door for an expedited custody transfer.
Both the Cherokee Nation and Dusten Brown filed requests for rehearing Monday after the South Carolina Supreme Court ordered the lower family court to finalize the adoption of three-year-old Veronica Brown, a Cherokee Nation citizen, by a non-Native couple from James Island, S.C.
In their 3-2 decision, the justices rejected Dusten Brown’s argument that a Cherokee Nation Tribal Court decision handed down Wednesday would impact the case. With Brown reporting for National Guard training earlier this week, the girl’s stepmother and paternal grandparents were awarded temporary guardianship. However, the majority opinion claimed that South Carolina had sole jurisdiction over the proceedings and that a hearing was not needed to determine the child’s best interests.
“Moreover, in light of the urgent need for this matter to be concluded, we determine, upon review of the record, that the adoption of Baby Girl by the Adoptive Couple is in the best interest of Baby Girl,” South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote for the majority.
The order does not provide a timeline for when the adoption will be finalized or when a custody transfer order will be issued. For now at least, the three-year-old will remain with her biological family in Nowata, Okla., while her tribe and father figure out their next course of action.
“We are gravely disappointed that the South Carolina Supreme Court has denied our petition for rehearing,” Cherokee Nation Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said. “It’s troublesome that, with no new evidence presented in nearly two years, the court would reverse its prior decision, which stated that Baby Girl’s interests were best served by residing with her biological father. This child has been living in a healthy, loving and nurturing home with her father and stepmother for more than a year and a half. She is surrounded by a loving extended family, which includes her grandparents, sister and cousins. Dusten has always been found to be a fit and loving father, yet the South Carolina Supreme Court considered none of these factors, including the father-daughter bond they have developed over the last 19 months. This court has reversed itself based on the same evidence it used to award custody to Dusten Brown nearly two years ago. We find this extremely troubling and are currently evaluating our next steps.”
Earlier this week, three national Native American organizations announced their intent to file a federal civil rights lawsuit if the request for a best interest hearing was not granted. That pledge was renewed Wednesday afternoon after the South Carolina court’s ruling.
“The National Congress of American Indians refuses to stand by as the rights of this child are violated,” NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata said. “Together with the Native American Rights Fund and the National Indian Child Welfare Association, we are preparing to file litigation in order to protect Veronica’s civil rights. On behalf of all Native American children, we will pursue every legal option available to us to ensure that standard adoption procedures are upheld in this case.
“Let me add that I believe the South Carolina Supreme Court has shown willful disregard for the facts when it claims Dusten Brown has not been involved in the life of his daughter. On the contrary, Dusten Brown has gone to extensive lengths to maintain his family and to care for Veronica. The court’s willingness to ignore these facts and rush a resolution in this matter is deeply troubling. “
National Native Organizations to Advance Civil Rights Lawsuit
Thom Wallace, NCAI Media Release
WASHINGTON - The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled today to deny the appeal filed by Dusten Brown and the Cherokee Nation of the Court’s July 17 order to expedite the transfer of custody of Veronica Brown to the South Carolina-based adoptive couple. One year ago, the South Carolina Supreme Court found that denying the adoption and awarding custody to Dusten Brown was in Veronica’s best interests. Today, that same Court summarily reversed that decision based on a two-year-old record and without providing a hearing for Veronica. Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians issued the following statement in response to today’s ruling:
“The South Carolina Supreme Court has utterly failed to evaluate Veronica’s current best interests in this case and confirmed our worst fears – when it comes to Veronica Brown, standard adoption procedures do not apply. Apparently, the Court believes that there is no need to require the family court to hold a formal and thoughtful hearing to determine what is in Veronica Brown’s best interest. Like thousands of Native American children before her, Veronica now faces the prospect of being removed from her Cherokee family, without a formal consideration of her needs, her culture and her well-being. This is an alarming failure of the judicial system, and it represents a grave threat to all children in adoption proceedings, but most notably Native American children, who deserve all the legal protections, afforded any child in this nation.”
“The National Congress of American Indians refuses to stand by as the rights of this child are violated. Together with the Native American Rights Fund and the National Indian Child Welfare Association we are preparing to file litigation in order to protect Veronica’s civil rights. On behalf of all Native American children, we will pursue every legal option available to us to ensure that standard adoption procedures are upheld in this case.”
“Let me add that I believe the South Carolina Supreme Court has shown willful disregard for the facts when it claims Dusten Brown has not been involved in the life of his daughter. On the contrary, Dusten Brown has gone to extensive lengths to maintain his family and to care for Veronica. The Court’s willingness to ignore these facts and rush a resolution in this matter is deeply troubling. “
Veronica Brown sees her father off July 22, 2013 at Tulsa International Airport as he departs for his mandatory National Guard training exercises.