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Season 14 | Episode 4

Love Supreme

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First, the story of a three-year-old girl and the highest court in the land. The Supreme Court case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is a legal battle that has entangled a biological father, a heart-broken couple, and the tragic history of Native American children taken from their families.

When producer Tim Howard first read about this case, it struck him as a sad but seemingly straightforward custody dispute. But, as he started talking to lawyers and historians and the families involved in the case, it became clear that it was much more than that. Because Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl challenges parts of the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, this case puts one little girl at the center of a storm of legal intricacies, Native American tribal culture, and heart-wrenching personal stakes.


Then, the broadcast debut of More Perfect, Radiolab's first spinoff show about how an elite group of nine people shape everything from marriage and money, to safety and sex for an entire nation. In this segment, More Perfect explores three little words embedded in the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “cruel and unusual.” America has long wrestled with this concept in the context of our strongest punishment, the death penalty. A majority of “we the people” (61 percent, to be exact) are in favor of having it, but inside the Supreme Court, opinions have evolved over time in surprising ways. And outside of the court, the debate drove one woman in the UK to take on the U.S. death penalty system from Europe. It also caused states to resuscitate old methods used for executing prisoners on death row. 

If you like what you hear and want to know how the story ends, you can check out the rest of the episode here.

Comments [8]

Jim Bilgere from New Orleans

Terrible! Children need to be with their REAL parents if at all possible , no matter their race.

Aug. 23 2016 01:44 AM
David Reich from Northville, Michigan

Sorry, but to me you ended up making what probably was a much simpler story complex and confusing. Of course, custody stories are never simple, but you tried too much to make this story about the Indian Law and its history threatened and complicated by the Baby Veronica custody story. There are two separate stories here. Sure, there is a connection, but you make the connection much more important than it was. And if the connection is strong, you failed to convince me. You should have been honest and brought out the fact that the Dad was only 2 percent Indian toward the top of the story. Also, I would have been more interested in learning why the Dad's argument that he was mislead into thinking he was giving up his rights so that his wife (or just the mother of his daughter?) would have custody. Why was the Dad so disregarded? That was never explained.

Jul. 24 2016 10:56 PM
Mar from Madison

I wonder why the birth father couldn't still be involved in Veronica's life just as the birth mother is. i wish that possibility had been raised.

Jul. 24 2016 04:50 PM
Jen Nuss from Laurel Md

There is no equate in this story! The whole set up for this story is comparing apples and couches! The child was placed up for adoption - both parents signed away custody! Who is the state to say that the adoptive parents are not appropriate. This child was not born on a res this child's parents choose for the child not to be raised in a DNA close relative family home, this is ridiculous this isn't about the tribe, if the tribe wanted to keep their DNA children then where were they when the member had a partner who was pregnant where were they when a member decided that money trumped his want/need/love of his child. The tribe and Indian Welfare Act is doing to baby Veronica exactly what happened for a century to thousands/millions to their members by the state they are now the state commiting the wrong! Radio Lab committed a grevious error by comparing these human tragedies is egregious! God the more I listen to this story as it plays the more angry I get. Adoption is not the same as returning/stealing a sweater from Macy's. The father is a bs artist the military provides free counsel to its members and if outside of their purview they provide reference to attys he can hire. 4 months before he signed and at no point did he contact mother- provide support- his story is just so unbelievable what birth mother who lived with a man for months and knew him since he was 16 and suddenly she hates him for no reason bs I don't believe it at all.

Jul. 24 2016 12:30 PM
Leisah from Eagle Butte, SD

I was an ICWA attorney in South Dakota the early 2000's. There was a case where the kids were taken away for playing outside in their bare feet in the summer and the mother hadn't done the dishes in the morning. South Dakota Social Services took away a kid for being fat. The story failed to mention that there was federal law that presumed that Indian parents were presumed unfit and the fact that even in 2016 Indian children represent 70% of the children in foster care in South Dakota at least while they are 18% of the population. You also failed to talk about quasi sovereignty and political status. Native sovereignty is in the Constitution. There is also a provision in ICWA that also required that the biological parent be represented by counsel and that the judge assure that the biological parent understood what terminating their parental rights meant. While I realized you are pressed for time a whole hour dedicated to this story doesn't even begin to touch on the complexities of the history of Native and their children.

Jul. 24 2016 07:45 AM
Vibrina from rural NC

Wow, so many erroneous, dare I say ignorant, statements and implications in this podcast about the Baby Veronica case. The subtext seems to be the RadioLab folks would like "race-based" laws that apply to Native Americans dismantled. If that's not the case, why use those words to describe the ICWA law? Why harp on that possible, but hardly probably, outcome of the Baby Veronica case decided in favor of the adoptive couple leading to a dissolution of the legal system that came out of treaties between Indian nations and the USA government. I guess it makes for a more sensational story. The issues around removal of Indian children from their birth families for spurious reasons started in the late 1800s with boarding schools where Indian children were taken and not allowed to speak their language or clothing--emotionally, physically and sexual abused. These schools were all over the USA and Canada and lasted into the 1970s so many people who attended them are still alive and, for the most part, don't have good things to say about them. I guess RadioLab did not have time to discuss that history. Regarding Indian law, it would have behooved the creator of this podcast to speak to experts in Indian law about the so-called "special treatment" that Indians receive and sovereignty and the history the Nation to nation relationship between Indian tribes and the USA federal government. Likewise some deeper understand of the tribal membership would have helped. Just because one Ojibwe attorney thinks the ICWA law is bad because of a specific case, does not mean that all Native attorneys or tribal folks do. No laws in any cultural are perfect. As a Native person and regular public radio listener, I am dismayed with the way the facts of the Baby Veronica case were surrounded by fantastic--as in fantasy--concepts.

Jul. 23 2016 04:46 PM
Robert Chase from Denver

Your incessant rapid-fire intercutting of commentary with what your informants have to say -- down to single words -- is completely insufferable! Why not try adding loud booms every few seconds? If you think that your weird production does anything other than detract from the story you are supposed to be telling, you are wrong -- so are the other shows doing similar! Tuning out now.

Jul. 23 2016 04:06 PM
Clifford from Los Angeles

So sad. The adoptive parents should have let it go. Selfish. Go find a kid whose biological parents truly want to give up custody!

Jul. 21 2016 12:43 AM

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