AG Brnovich Joins Bipartisan Coalition in Defense of Law that Protects Native American Children

PHOENIX – Attorney General Mark Brnovich announced today that Arizona is part of a bipartisan coalition of 19 states that filed an amicus brief in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to defend the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in Brakeen v. Zinke. ICWA is a 40-year-old federal law that furthers the best interests of Native American children and protects the sovereignty of Indian tribes by preserving children’s connections to their tribal heritage.

"It’s important that we always recognize tribal nations have a right to continue their way of life and there’s no greater asset to them than their children,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “The Indian Child Welfare Act was created with this in mind and my office will continue to defend it.”

First enacted in 1978, ICWA was a response to a history of the culturally insensitive removal and separation of Indian children from not only their birth families but their tribes and heritage as well. ICWA’s purpose is to “protect the best interests of Indian children and promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families by the establishment of minimum Federal standards” to be utilized in child welfare proceedings involving Native American children.

In this case, individual plaintiffs, along with the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Indiana, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior and its now-former Secretary Ryan Zinke to challenge the law. In October 2018, the district court for the Northern District of Texas struck down much of ICWA on constitutional grounds.  Last year, Attorney General Brnovich prevailed in the defense of ICWA at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in another case after the court ruled the legal challenge to the law filed by the Goldwater Institute was moot.

In the brief filed on Monday, the attorneys general argue that ICWA is an appropriate exercise of Congress' broad authority to legislate in the field of Indian affairs and does not violate equal protection principles. The brief also highlights ICWA’s important role in reducing disparities in child removal rates and improving the collaboration between states and tribes relating to their shared interest in improving the health and welfare of Native American children.

General Brnovich is joined by the Attorneys General of California, Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington in filing the brief. 

Full copy of the brief.