Native American child welfare law faces biggest challenge

FLAGSTAFF, AZ — A federal law that gives preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings involving Native children is facing a significant legal challenge.

Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 because a higher number of Native American children were being removed from their homes by private and public agencies.

A federal judge in Texas ruled for the first time last year that the law is unconstitutional, saying it’s race-based and violates the equal protection clause.

Hundreds of tribes, advocacy groups and the federal agency that oversees Indian Affairs are urging an appellate judge to overturn that ruling. They say the law is based on the political status of tribes, not race, and ensures children have a cultural connection to their tribes.

A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Louisiana hears oral arguments in the case Wednesday.

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