Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Baby Veronica Brown

July 31, 2013 –

Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Veronica Brown

Statement of Support Issued by Tribal Governments and Leading Native American, Civil Rights, Child Welfare and Legal Advocates along with Arizona and New Mexico State Attorneys General to Stop Violation of “Baby Veronica’s” Civil Rights by South Carolina Courts


Washington, DC (July 31, 2013) –  Today, 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 today 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.”


Click to download the Complaint.


Broad National Support for the Litigation


Also today, on behalf of 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).


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


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)

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

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