Supreme Court won’t stay Baby Veronica adoption, release of California inmates

The Supreme Court on Friday refused further delay in two of its important decisions: allowing the adoption of Baby Veronica over the objections of her Indian father and requiring the release of convicts from California’s overcrowded prisons.

The court declined to stop the adoption of the nearly 4-year-old child by Matt and Melanie Capobianco of South Carolina. They were selected by the girl’s unwed mother to raise her, and Veronica lived with them for the first 27 months of her life.

The girl’s father, Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, won custody in 2011 by relying on the Indian Child Welfare Act, which raises high hurdles to the adoption of a child outside the tribe. Veronica has lived with Brown and his new wife in Oklahoma for the past 19 months.

But the Supreme Court in June ruled 5 to 4 that the federal law does not apply when “the parent abandoned the Indian child before birth and never had custody of the child.” The court returned the case to South Carolina.

A family court there finalized the adoption this week, and the Supreme Court on Friday declined without comment Brown’s request to stay the action. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented in the June decision, said they would have granted the stay.

It is unclear whether Brown has any remaining legal options or when the transfer of the child might take place. Counselors are at work on a transition plan to minimize the adjustment problems such a move might cause.

In the California prison case, the court, by a vote of 6 to 3, rejected a petition from Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to delay a lower court’s order that would require the release of nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of the year to improve conditions in state prisons.

The state had told the court that “no data suggests that a sudden release of inmates with these characteristics can be done safely.”

The Supreme Court in 2011 ruled 5 to 4 to uphold a special lower court panel’s findings that California’s prison conditions are so extraordinary as to violate the Constitution’s protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented in that ruling, said Friday that his colleagues on the other side of the issue had been disingenuous in suggesting in the 2011 ruling that California could petition for modifications if it showed progress in eliminating the overcrowding.

“It appears to have become a standard ploy, when this court vastly expands the Power of the Black Robe, to hint at limitations that make it seem not so bad,” wrote Scalia, who was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.

California had, in effect, called the court’s “bluff,” Scalia said, and the majority “has nary a pair to lay on the table.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. also would have granted Brown’s petition, but he did not join Scalia’s opinion.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.
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