On July 31, the Native American Rights Fund filed a complaint in the United States District Court in South Carolina to protect the civil rights of Veronica Brown, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who has been denied due process in the South Carolina courts. The filing comes after the South Carolina Supreme Court issued two controversial orders to the state’s family court on July 17 and 24, calling for the removal of Veronica from her father and a transfer her to the adoptive couple without a hearing of best interest.

The lawsuit was supported in a national statement released on July 31 by a broad coalition of civil rights, child welfare, adoption advocates, legal authorities, tribal governments, and Native American advocacy groups. These groups and individuals joined with the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund, and National Indian Child Welfare Association in releasing the national statement of support for Veronica’s civil rights, and the rights of all children, to a hearing of best interest.

The litigation was filed on behalf of Veronica, by Angel Smith, an attorney appointed as counsel for the child by the courts of the Cherokee Nation, in U.S. District Court in South Carolina, and asks the Court to determine whether Veronica has a constitutionally protected right to a meaningful hearing in the state courts to determine what is in her best interests. Furthermore, the litigation asserts that Veronica, as an “Indian child” under the Indian Child Welfare Act, has a federally protected right to have the state courts fully consider and appropriately weigh her best interests as an Indian child. Daniel E. Martin, Jr., the judge for the family court system of South Carolina, is named as the defendant in the suit.

According to the filing, Veronica “doubtless has a liberty interest in remaining with her father and such an interest justifies at a minimum a plenary hearing on her current status, her relationships with others and her genuine need for stability . . . Despite the finding of the family court and the implicit assumption by the Supreme Court of South Carolina that [Veronica’s] best interest would be served by being with her father, two years later the court now determines, despite the passage of time and [Veronica’s] stage of development at age four, that her ‘best’ interests will now be served by being removed from him and given back to the adoptive couple. Again, this order is without any consideration to the present circumstances, psychological and emotional well-being, and future impact on [Veronica]. This is an arbitrary result, depriving [Veronica] of any opportunity to be heard on her own behalf, irrespective of the competing interests of the adult litigants in her young life.”

To read the complaint, click here.

Broad National Support for the Litigation

On July 31, on behalf of a broad coalition of civil rights, child welfare, legal authorities, tribal governments and Native American advocacy groups, the National Congress of American Indians, along with the Native American Rights Fund and the National Indian Child Welfare Association released a national statement of support for Veronica’s civil rights to be upheld. The statement of support has been endorsed by a broad coalition of tribal governments, state and federal legal authorities including two state attorneys general—Arizona and New Mexico—civil rights institutions such as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, child welfare and adoption organizations including the Child Welfare League of America, and leading national and regional Native advocacy organizations representing the interests of almost every tribe located within the United States (see full list below).  To read the letter, click here.

According to the letter:

[T]he rights promised to our children are being compromised in the courts of the State of South Carolina . . . The recent [South Carolina Supreme Court] ruling in the case denies the basic fundamental right of an almost four-year-old Indian child to a hearing of her ‘best interests’ before removing her from her biological father after almost two years of child-rearing, bonding and establishing a loving home environment. Plainly stated, this is a denial of Veronica’s human rights and constitutional rights to due process as a citizen of the United States.

The following organizations and individuals have signed on to the letter of support for the civil rights lawsuit being filed on behalf of Veronica:

Attorneys General

  • The Office of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne
  • Attorney General of the State of New Mexico Gary K. King

Civil Rights, Child Welfare, and Adoption Advocacy Organizations

  • The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
  • Child Welfare League of America
  • North American Council on Adoptable Children
  • Voice for Adoption
  • Consortium for Children
  • Adopt America Network
  • The Adoption Exchange
  • Spaulding for Children
  • Three Rivers Adoption Council
  • Applied Research Center
  • Asian Americans Advancing Justice—AAJC
  • Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum
  • Center for Social Inclusion
  • Demos
  • Friends Committee on National Legislation
  • League of Rural Voters
  • National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association

Tribal Nations in Support

  • Cherokee Nation – Principal Chief Bill John Baker
  • California Valley Miwok Tribe – Chairperson Silvia Burley
  • Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska – Vice President Lowell Halverson
  • Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation – Les Minthorn, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
  • Crooked Creek Traditional Council – President Evelyn Thomas
  • Enterprise Rancheria, Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe – Tribal Chairwoman Glenda Nelson
  • Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe – Tribal Chairperson Maxine Smart
  • Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe – W. Ron Allen, Tribal Chairman/CEO and Chairman – DOI, Self-Governance Advisory Committee (representing 253 Tribes and Native Villages throughout the United States)
  • Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians – Chairman Michael J. Isham
  • Mohegan Tribe – Chief Lynn Malerba, – Chairwoman IHS, Tribal Self-Governance Advisory Committee (representing 336 Tribes and Native Villages throughout the United States)
  • Navajo Nation – President Ben Shelly
  • Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Council – Governor Marcelino Aguino
  • Osage Nation – Assistant Principal Chief Scott Bighorse
  • Ponca Tribe of Nebraska – Vice Chairman Jeremy Wright
  • Round Valley Indian Tribes – Vice-President Joe Dukepoo
  • San Manuel Band of Mission Indians – Chairperson Carla Rodriguez
  • Skagway Traditional Council – Tribal President/Administrator Delia Commander
  • Soboba Band Of Luiseno Indians – Chairwoman Rosemary Morillo.
  • Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council – Chairman Jimmy R. Newton, Jr.,
  • Tulalip Tribes of Washington – Deanna Muir, Deputy General Manager of the Tulalip Tribes

Regional Tribal Government Organizations

  • Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians
  • Alaska Federation of Natives
  • California Association of Tribal Governments
  • Coalition of Large Tribes
  • Inter Tribal Council of Arizona
  • InterTribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes
  • Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association
  • United South and Eastern Tribes
  • United Tribes of North Dakota

American Indian & Alaska Native Organizations

  • American Indian Child Resource Center
  • Association on American Indian Affairs Tribal Law & Policy Institute
  • California Indian Legal Services
  • Division of Indian Work
  • First Nations Repatriation Institute
  • ICWA Law Center
  • Oklahoma Indian Child Welfare Association
  • Sealaska Heritage Institute
  • National Indian Education Association
  • National Indian Health Board
  • Native Public Media
  • Self-Governance Communication and Education Tribal Consortium

Legal Scholars

  • Carla F. Fredericks, Co-Director, American Indian Law Program Associate Clinical Professor of Law University of Colorado Law School
  • Eric Eberhard, Distinguished Indian Law Practitioner in Residence, Center for Indian Law and Policy, Seattle University School of Law
  • Jennifer Weddle, Chair, Federal Bar Association Indian Law Section
  • Kristen Carpenter, Co-Director, American Indian Law Program Associate Professor of Law University of Colorado Law School
  • Lorie M. Graham, Professor of Law, Co-Director, International Law Concentration Suffolk University Law School


On July 17 and July 24, the South Carolina Supreme Court issued two controversial orders to the state’s family court calling for an expedited transfer of Veronica Brown to the South Carolina-based adoptive couple without a hearing of best interest. It is standard procedure that all custodial transfers, including adoption proceedings, require a hearing to determine the best interest of the child in advance of any transfer proceedings, an essential step the South Carolina Supreme Court failed to take, thus denying Veronica the right to have her best interests considered. One year ago the South Carolina Supreme Court, followed the family court’s finding that it was in the best interest of Veronica to be with her father stating: “Likewise, we cannot say that Baby Girl’s best interests are not served by the grant of custody to Father, as Appellants have not presented evidence that Baby Girl would not be safe, loved, and cared for if raised by Father and his family.”

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