Document Type



Family Law | Law and Economics | Law and Gender | Law and Race


On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court decided Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, holding that the Indian Child Welfare Act did not permit the Cherokee father in that case to object to termination of his parental rights. The case is ostensibly about a dispute between prospective adoptive parents and a biological father. This Article demonstrates that it is about a lot more than that. It is a microcosm of anxieties about Indianness, race, and the changing nature of parenthood. While made in the name of the child, moreover, the decision supports practices and policies that do not forward and may even undermine children’s interests. Drawing on published and unpublished court records and testimony, this Article reveals that the Court’s portrayal of the facts of the case was wrong. Instead of a deadbeat dad acting as a spoiler in the adoption of the daughter he had abandoned, the birth father sought to parent his daughter from the moment he learned his fiancé was pregnant and was initially prevented from learning of the adoption plan by the actions of the parties and their attorneys. The decision distorted the law as well, doing violence to long-accepted interpretations of the statute. Why did the Court mischaracterize the facts and the law? The Article examines the narratives of the interests of the child, racial color-blindness, and even women’s rights that surrounded the case to reveal that the decision in fact rested on racialization and colonialism of Indian people, condemnation of poor single mothers, economic interests of private adoption facilitators, and the class divides in modern paths to parenthood.