ACLU Applauds the Supreme Court’s Decision Upholding the Indian Child Welfare Act

News Release: 
Thursday, June 15, 2023

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court today issued a landmark victory for tribal sovereignty by rejecting all the constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), legislation that seeks to ensure that Native families stay together, and that Native children are raised by tribal members. As Justice Gorsuch’s concurrence explains, this is a critical law designed to halt horrific government practices that had torn Native families apart and intentionally undermined tribal sovereignty.

This decision recognizes the centuries-long history of Native child removal pursuant to state and federal policies, but the work is far from over. Today, states still continue to remove Native children from their families and tribes at alarmingly high rates. Fourteen states have already incorporated ICWA protections into their own codes, and several more states are poised to do the same.

“Tribes have a fundamental right to govern themselves and make decisions on issues that affect their own people — including Native children — without interference from federal or state governments,” said Crystal Pardue, staff attorney in the Racial Justice Program at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Native families have a right to stay together, care for their children, and preserve tribal culture by ensuring access to their cultural identity, language, and heritage. We call on every remaining state to stand with Indigenous governments by passing their own state ICWAs now.”

“This ruling reaffirms that Native families have a right to stay unified and helps preserve tribal culture by ensuring access to their cultural identity and heritage," said La Rond Baker, legal director for the ACLU of Washington. "The federal and Washington state Indian Child Welfare Acts are vital to ensuring that Indigenous families stay together and that tribes have a right to self-government.” 

An amicus brief in Brackeen v. Haaland was filed by the ACLU, ACLU of NorCal, ACLU of Alaska, ACLU of Arizona, ACLU of Maine, ACLU of Montana, ACLU of Nebraska, ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU of Oklahoma, ACLU of South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming chapter, ACLU of Texas, ACLU of Utah, and ACLU of Washington.

An interactive map of state with ICWA laws can be found here:

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Court Case: 
Brackeen v. Haaland