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Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield

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Title: Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield  
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Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield

Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield
Argued January 11, 1989
Decided April 3, 1989
Full case name Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield et al.
Citations 490 U.S. 30 (more)
109 S. Ct. 1597; 104 L. Ed. 2d 29
Prior history In the Matter of B.B. and G.B., Minors, 511 So. 2d 918 (Miss. 1987)
Holding
Reversed and remanded, held that the Indian Child Welfare Act governed adoptions of Indian children, and a tribal court had jurisdiction over a state court regardless of the location of birth of the child if the child or the natural parents resided on the reservation
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority J. Brennan, joined by JJ. White, Marshall, Blackmun, O'Connor and Scalia
Dissent J. Stevens, joined by C.J. Rehnquist and J. Kennedy
Laws applied
25 U.S.C. §§ 1901–1963

Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30 (1989), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Indian Child Welfare Act governed adoptions of Indian children, and a tribal court had jurisdiction over a state court regardless of the location of birth of the child if the child or the natural parents resided on the reservation.[1]

Background

In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) (Pub.L. 95–608, 93 Stat. 3071, enacted November 8, 1978), codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901–1963.[2] This law was enacted due to the high rate of Indian Children that were being removed from their families and their tribes, with tribe survival being threatened. The ICWA gives the tribal court exclusive jurisdiction for children that are born or that live on tribal land, and concurrent jurisdiction with state courts in all other cases.[1][2]

In 1985, a set of Indian twins were born in Harrison County, Mississippi, 200 miles from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. The mother had moved to Harrison County for the sole purpose of giving birth off the reservation and for placing the children with the Holyfields.[3] The parents were not married, and both parents executed a consent for adoption in the Harrison County Chancery Court and the Holyfields, a non-Indian couple adopted the children. The court signed a final decree of adoption in early 1986. Two months later, the tribe moved to vacate the adoption, stating that the tribal court had exclusive jurisdiction. The state trial court denied their motion, noting that the children had never lived on the reservation and were not born there. The tribe appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, which affirmed the trial courts decision.[1][4] The tribe appealed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.[1]

Opinion of the Court

Justice William J. Brennan delivered the opinion of the court. Brennan reviewed the intent of Congress and noted that one in eight Indian children were adopted out and that 90% of those children went to non-Indian homes. He noted that for children born or residing on a reservation, the tribal court has exclusive jurisdiction. In other cases, the tribal courts have concurrent jurisdiction. In those cases, on the motion of a parent or the tribe, the matter is to be transferred to the tribal court with three exceptions - for "good cause," objection to the transfer by either parent, or the declination of jurisdiction in the matter by the tribal court.[2] The emphasis the Mississippi Supreme Court placed on the domicile of the children, the fact that they were never on the reservation, and the voluntary relinquishment by the natural parents was error.[1]

Both of the natural parents resided on the reservation. A child's domicile follows that of the parent. The fact that the parents traveled 200 miles to avoid giving birth on the reservation does not serve to eliminate the tribal court's exclusive jurisdiction. Since the tribal court had such jurisdiction, the state court did not, and had no authority to enter an order of adoption. Reversed and remanded.[1]

Dissent

Justice John P. Stevens, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Anthony Kennedy dissented from the majority opinion. Stevens felt that since the parents consented to the adoption and wanted to use the state court, they should be allowed to do so. Stevens believed that the ICWA was primarily for the involuntary removal of Indian children from their families and the tribe, and a voluntary action does not have the same characteristics. Stevens would have affirmed the decision of the state courts.[1]

Subsequent Developments

The case has had a large impact on family law involving Indian children, having been cited in over 1,000 cases since the decision. It has also been extensively referenced in books[5][6][7] and journals on Native American law.[3][8][9]

Although the Supreme Court was clear that the ICWA was to be applied to adoption cases based on the statute and the accompanying House Report, "by making sure that Indian child welfare determinations are not based on "a white, middle-class standard..."",[1] state courts created an "existing Indian family"[10] exception to the application of the ICWA.[11] In those cases, courts had held if the child was not part of an existing Indian family, a term that was not defined anywhere in the law, then the ICWA did not apply. At one point, nearly half of the states used the exception.[11] As of 2010, only six states use the exception. It now appears that tribal interests are being viewed by the courts as importantly as the child's interests in these cases. [11]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30 (1989)
  2. ^ a b c Indian Child Welfare Act (Pub.L. 95–608, 93 Stat. 3071, enacted November 8, 1978)
  3. ^ a b Maldonaldo, Solangel (2008). "Race, Culture, and Adoption: Lessons from Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield". Columbia Journal of Gender and Law (Columbia University School of Law) 17 (1): 1–36. 
  4. ^ In the Matter of B.B. and G.B., Minors, 511 So.2d 918 (Miss. 1987).
  5. ^ Jones, B.J.; Tilden, Mark; Gaines-Stoner, Kelly (2008). The Indian Child Welfare Act Handbook: A Legal Guide to the Custody and Adoption of Native American Children. Chicago: American Bar Association.  
  6. ^ Duthu, N. Bruce (2008). American Indians and the Law. London: Penguin Books Ltd.  
  7. ^ Wardle, Lynn D.; Nolan, Laurence C. (2005). Fundamental Principles of Family Law. Buffalo, NY: Wm. S. Hein Publishing.  
  8. ^ Allbaugh, Diane (1991). "Tribal Jurisdiction over Indian Children: Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield". American Indian Law Review (University of Oklahoma College of Law) 16 (2): 533–558. 
  9. ^ Watts, Stan (1989). "Voluntary Adoptions Under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978: Balancing the Interests of Children, Families, and Tribes". Southern California Law Review (University of Southern California School of Law) 63 (1): 213–256. 
  10. ^ In the Matter of the Adoption of Baby Boy L., 643 P.2d 168 (Kan. 1982) (“the Act is concerned with the removal of Indian children from an existing Indian family unit and the resultant breakup of the Indian family”). , [emphasis added], overruled by In re A.J.S., 204 P.3d 543 (Kan. 2010).
  11. ^ a b c Lewerenz, Dan; McCoy, Padraic (2010). "The End of the "Existing Indian Family" Jurisprudence: Holyfield at 20, In the Matter of A.J.S. and the Last Gasps of a Dying Doctrine". William Mitchell Law Review (William Mitchell College of Law) 36 (2): 684–723. 

External links

Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30 (1989) Works related to Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield at Wikisource

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