Dusten Brown, Cherokee, reads to daughter Veronica at their home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. (Courtesy NCIA)

U.S. Supreme Court Hears Baby Veronica Custody Case


Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the highly publicized case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl.

More commonly known as the “Baby Veronica” case, it concerns 3-and-a-half-year-old Veronica, born in Oklahoma in 2009 to Christina Maldonado, a non-Native Hispanic woman, and Dusten Brown, an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. Prior to Veronica’s birth, and without Brown’s consent, Maldonado arranged for their daughter to be adopted by a non-Native couple.

When Brown, an Iraqi war veteran, learned of the adoption, he immediately sought custody of Veronica, who was living with the adoptive couple Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina.  

On December 28, 2011, when Veronica was 2 years old, the South Carolina Appellate Court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) trumped South Carolina state law. On December 31, 2011, Veronica was returned to her biological father, family in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a neighboring city of the Tahlequah-based Cherokee Nation. According to the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling, the Brown family has a “deeply embedded relationship” with their heritage. On July 26, a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling upheld the appellate court’s decision.

Mainstream media have presented misleading facts about the adoption and Brown’s commitment to his daughter. An op-ed by Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, titled Baby Veronica and Native American Family Values, clarifies the glaring misrepresentations.

The below video, created by the National Congress of American Indians, features  Veronica with Dusten and his wife, Robin.  "There's no words you can really state on how much you love your children," Brown says in the video. "...When it comes to my family, I'd do anything for them."

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, anticipated in June, is expected to significantly impact all future adoption cases involving a Native American child and significantly alter the interpretation of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). A favorable ruling to uphold the South Carolina appellate and supreme court decisions stand to strengthen the enforcement of ICWA at state courts across the country.

But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to overturn the South Carolina court decisions would not only result in Brown losing custody of his daughter, it would have detrimental effects for all future cases involving Native children being adopted into non-Native homes.

“It would undo [over] 35 years of work on the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Chrissi Nimmo, the counsel of record for the Cherokee Nation, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “Any adverse decision would impact every tribe in the country. There’s no doubt.”

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Erik L. Smith's picture
Erik L. Smith
Submitted by Erik L. Smith on
Pleas explain how the Supreme Court overturning the South Carolina decision will have a devastating effect on tribes. Couldn't the ICWA placement preferences still be implemented?

Lauretta's picture
Submitted by Lauretta on
I think white folks have taken enough; Dusten deserves to keep his child, On the legal merits, the mother gave Veronica up for adoption without notification (he's a veteran and was deployed ...shame on her) so the court properly corrected this illegal adoption, Where are the father's rights groups? I hope they are supporting this Dad. I pray the high court comes down on Dusten's and Veronica side.

Steve Choi's picture
Steve Choi
Submitted by Steve Choi on
But isn't it true that Mr. Brown refused to support Ms. Maldonado during the pregnancy, refused to consent to child support, and then abdicated his parental rights? It seems he only became alarmed when Ms. Maldonado decided to give Veronica up for adoption. Brown's behavior then seems akin to someone clawing back a piece of property.

sanzilla's picture
Submitted by sanzilla on
Is it not true that Dusten texted Christy giving up his parental rights? Is it not also true that he signed off on the initial paperwork notifying him of the adoption BEFORE deploying for Iraq? And 2% Indian? For this a child is taken from the only parents she knew? Why the sudden change of heart?

Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
To be taken away from your family is a travesty. The breakdown of any society starts with the family unit. I hope the Supreme Court realizes that ICWA is important to the child's welfare. People use to take away American Indians from their families and put them in Boarding Houses where they were beaten and tortured and sometimes killed while their parents never knew what really happened to them. Most of them were said to civilize the children but how many generations were lost to this practice in the name of religion. How can a white society who has been here for two hundred years be so heartless to a culture that lived here for thousands of years? Keep Veronica with her father, at all costs, she is a precious little girl.

Kayla Rose Hunter's picture
Kayla Rose Hunter
Submitted by Kayla Rose Hunter on
My children are in non-native homes, they are enrolled members of the Apache Tribe of Oklahoma. I am enrolled in the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma. My case has been going on since December 2011 with two of my children. My case is at a stand still till the US Supreme court makes a ruling on this case. I love my children and I have full time job, a 5 bedroom home, im not on drugs or nor do I drink, I am catholic, and I've done every court order these people in Kansas have asked me to do. And I pay out of my own pocket for the services they ask I have. ICWA is there to protect our native families. KVC, and the State of Kansas did NOT and have NOT place my children in native American homes and separated my children. I need help! No one is helping me, my tribe isn't doing much of anything either!!!! My lawyer isn't calling me back! I visit my children every other week in Lawrence, KS, and I live in Oklahoma!!! I voluntarily drive to Lawrence to see them. My daughters father wasn't involved till they made him get involved in February 2012, she was born in November 2009! My son father signed up his rights October 2012 and my son was born in June 2011! I've been doing everything they have asked of me, and they still haven't made a decision!!! I want my kids home!!!

Robbin Cramer's picture
Robbin Cramer
Submitted by Robbin Cramer on
I think the father needs to somehow work to better his little girls life by including all involved in her life. Since when can you have to many people love you. This Dad is very selfish. His love for his daughter is questioned the day he put her in this situation. Very self serving without the childs feelings in mind at all. Only what he wanted. She is not property. She deserves all of her family including the extended one. By the way.....to the post back a few...not giving a name? ..since when in this century has anyone tried to take indians to a shelter and "tame" them or torture or mame them. It's 2013. This is in no way compairative to this situation. First and foremost....she is a child. Nothing more....nothing less. Regardless of race. Shame on you.

Kat Flynn
Kat Flynn
Submitted by Kat Flynn on
You can not LEGALLY give up your parental rights in a text message. We have all said and done things we're not proud of when angry. Mr. Brown sent Child Support to the Capobianco's, per the Supreme Court Transcripts. The money was put into an account for Veronica. He also sent gifts and cards, which were returned. THOSE are the facts, per the US Supreme Court Transcripts. However, the Save Veronica nut jobs would have everyone believe he was a deadbeat. Ms. Maldonado knew he was of indian heritage, yet misspelled his first name, and gave the wrong date of birth. The Capobianco family knew Mr. Brown wanted his daughter when she was four months old, yet they continue to try to keep a child that is not theirs. She was never legally adopted, the adoption was denied.