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NEW ORLEANS — Leaders of four national American Indian organizations will be in a United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Fifth Circuit) courtroom in New Orleans on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, as the Court rehears Brackeen v. Bernhardt, a case challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). They will be there to represent Indian Country and to show support for the 41-year-old law that protects the best interests of American Indian children and families.

The leaders make up the Protect ICWA Campaign, which include: Sarah Kastelic, National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA) executive director; Kevin Allis, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) chief executive officer; Derrick Beetso, NCAI general counsel; Shannon Keller O’Loughlin, Association on American Affairs (AAIA) executive director and attorney; Erin C. Dougherty Lynch, Native American Rights Fund (NARF) senior staff attorney and Dan Lewerenz, NARF staff attorney.

In 2018, a federal district court in Texas, in a widely criticized decision, held that ICWA violates the U.S. Constitution. Last year, in response to appeals brought by the federal government and the intervening tribal nations at that time (the Cherokee Nation, Morongo Band of Mission Indians, Oneida Nation, Quinault Indian Nation, and the Navajo Nation), a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit reversed that decision, reaffirming the constitutionality of ICWA. In an en banc review, complex cases of broad legal significance are reconsidered by the entire court, and not just a three-judge panel. For the Brackeen v. Bernhardt case, the decision reached by the en banc review panel will replace the three-judge panel decision from August 2019.

“We are proud to be part of a broad bipartisan coalition supporting the Indian Child Welfare Act,” said the Protect ICWA Campaign, noting that the pro-ICWA coalition has helped garner support from 495 federally recognized tribes, 26 states and the District of Columbia, 77 members of Congress, more than 60 Native organizations, and the nation’s leading experts in child welfare, constitutional law, administrative law, and Indian law. “We are confident that the hearing before the full panel of judges signifies the Court’s recognition of how careful Congress was to craft ICWA as a model of cooperative federalism, and how important ICWA is every day in helping achieve the best interests of Indian children and families.”

 

 

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