On June 14, 2023, the Supreme Court released a decision in Haaland v. Brackeen, upholding the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in a 7-2 decision. ICWA was adopted by Congress in 1978 because of an abusive history by the US government that frequently resulted in the placement of Indian children in boarding homes, schools or adoption policies that specifically sought to erase a personal Indian heritage by placing children in white families. The National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA), a leader in the fight to protect ICWA, released a statement celebrating the decision.

ICWA covers any child who is either a member of a federally recognized tribe/Alaska Native Village or is eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe/Alaska Native Village and is the biological child of a member of a federally recognized tribe/Alaska Native Village. ICWA establishes the minimum standards for removal of Indian children from their families and creates a preference that Native children are placed with family or tribal members as the first options, before considering placing them with non-Native families.

Opponents of the law say it exceeds Congress’ power, violates states’ rights, and imposes unconstitutional race-based classifications, ignoring the government-to-government relationship between tribes and the United States government. The Supreme Court Justices rejected all of the challengers’ arguments in Thursday’s decision.

Christine James-Brown, CWLA President and CEO, issued the following statement on the decision:

“The Child Welfare League of America joins our partner NICWA and Tribal Nations in celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision today in Haaland v. Brackeen, which upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). We rejoice in the decisive 7-2 majority opinion by the Supreme Court Justices to reject all the challenges to the law, a strong statement in support of Tribal sovereignty in child welfare matters.

Our nation has a long, painful history of disregarding Tribal sovereignty and removing Alaska Native and American Indian children from their families and communities. Passed in 1978, ICWA is a long-standing federal law protecting the wellbeing of Native children by prioritizing family integrity and stability within their community. It is considered the “gold standard” in child welfare policy, grounded in best practices in child welfare and supported by decades of experience and research. ICWA is fundamental to the wellbeing of Native children and families.

Tribal Nations fought hard for the protections offered by ICWA when it was first passed and have continued to fight to maintain these protections in the decades since. CWLA is proud to stand alongside the dedicated advocates responsible for today’s victory and offer our sincere congratulations and support for this landmark decision.”