Jason Aamodt (JD ’96), TU College of Law Assistant Dean, and Chrissi Nimmo (JD ’08), Assistant Attorney General at the Cherokee Nation, share their comments on the status of the ‘Baby Veronica’ case with the Tulsa World.
Baby Veronica’s custody battle becomes more complex
Published by the Tulsa World, Wednesday, July 10, 2013
By Michael Overall
Far from being settled, the Baby Veronica custody battle has only grown more complicated since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision two weeks ago. The court simply ruled that a certain federal law – the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 – should not have been used to grant custody to the biological father in Oklahoma. That won’t necessarily send the girl back to her adoptive parents in the suburbs of Charleston, S.C., where Veronica lived for the first two years of her life. It just means that the South Carolina Supreme Court will have to reconsider the case, with a new ruling possible any day now. Meanwhile, the girl’s biological father and his wife, Dusten and Robin Brown, have filed adoption papers in Nowata County, where Veronica has lived with them for the last 18 months.
“Oklahoma rules provide for jurisdiction over children who reside here six months or more,” explained Jason Aamodt, assistant dean at the University of Tulsa’s law school. “The complicating factor is that Baby Veronica came to Oklahoma under an order from the South Carolina courts.”
So it may ultimately fall to the federal courts – conceivably even the U.S. Supreme Court again – to decide which state has jurisdiction. But it gets even more complicated.
In her dissenting opinion June 25, Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that the girl’s grandparents or “other tribal members” could ask to adopt Veronica if the biological father ultimately loses custody. The court wasn’t striking down the Indian Child Welfare Act, only its application to this particular case, Sotomayor wrote. The federal law still gives preference to the extended family or to tribal members, she said. Perhaps acting on that advice, paternal grandparents Tommy and Alice Brown have already filed for adoption in Cherokee Nation District Court, officials confirmed Tuesday. The tribe recently granted citizenship to Veronica herself, but Cherokee courts would have jurisdiction, anyway, based on the biological father’s Indian heritage, tribal officials said.
“Our courts are just as qualified and just as capable of deciding this case as any state court,” said Chrissi Nimmo, the assistant attorney general of the Cherokee Nation. Despite the tribe’s openly siding with the birth father, a Cherokee court would make an independent ruling, she said, “just as impartial” as any other court. “There are some very complicated legal questions that need to be answered,” Nimmo said. “And some judge will have to make some very difficult decisions.