Current Cases & Projects  |  Kaltag v. State of Alaska

Kaltag v. State of Alaska
Attorney: Natalie Landreth

Case Update

This was an action to enforce the full faith and credit clause of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The Kaltag Tribe had completed an adoption in tribal court and had applied for a new birth certificate, but the State of Alaska refused to issue one on the grounds that the Tribe had not petitioned for reassumption of jurisdiction under ICWA. This argument assumed that a Tribe did not have inherent jurisdiction to adjudicate adoptions of its own tribal members. The Tribe and the parents, represented by NARF, brought suit against the State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics for denying full faith and credit to a tribal adoption decree in violation of section 1911(d) of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The parents also raised a section 1983 claim.

Cross motions for summary judgment were filed in May 2007 and the federal district court ruled in favor of the Tribe on all claims, holding that the tribal court's decision was entitled to full faith and credit under ICWA. The State of Alaska moved to stay the judgment and appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit denied the stay and affirmed the decision on appeal. The State further moved for rehearing en banc, which was also denied.

Despite the fact that this case involved only application of well-settled law, the State petitioned for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on the basis that Tribes do not have inherent jurisdiction over the adoption of their own tribal members. The Supreme Court issued an order directing the Solicitor General to provide the views of the United States on whether certiorari should be granted, and the United States filed a brief stating that the Supreme Court should not grant certiorari. On Monday, October 4, 2010, the Supreme Court denied certiorari and ended this case. The rule now is that Tribes have inherent jurisdiction to adjudicate the adoptions of their own members even outside of Indian Country. NARF will now ensure that the mandates set forth in this case and its precedent are followed by the State of Alaska.


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