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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 [14]

Sara from Earth

Balancing the weight of racial injustice with the life of a child is morally wrong. We are on the other end of the pendulum swing of this: I have two relatives, both of whom have a mother who is an enrolled member of a tribe. She is addicted to heroin and meth, and her youngest child was born addicted, too. She left him at the hospital and is MIA. The father (a non-native relative of mine with serious mental health issues and addiction) wants the children back. Because of ICWA, the court has spent the last 5 years dithering on whether to return the first son to his parents, despite the fact that they removed him from care because they had overdosed him on heroin and repeatedly administered it to him for tooth pain due to decay. They also have been in and out of prison, homeless for basically all of that time, and can't hold down a job or stay sober for more than several months.

Basically ICWA has meant that the first child has existed in a legal limbo for 5 years of his life, and this will probably happen to the second child, too. How is this justice? The parents aren't actually involved in the tribe, except that they receive assistance. They attend a powwow now and again. The mental illness and addiction in both parents makes it next to impossible for them to parent. They may pull it together for a little while, and then they backslide again. It's heartbreaking. The kids just need families to love them. They weren't involved in any baby-stealing! They are victims of trauma and deserve a better life.

Jul. 03 2017 02:05 PM
Isaura Barrera from San Antonio

I'm wondering after listening to this program why no attention was paid to HOW the transfer(s) was conducted; all the attention was on the decisions themselves. This omission seriously omits the best interests of the child. For me, it's not primarily about which home Veronica is placed in but about HOW that transfer is conducted. She could well have been removed from the first adoptive couple with greater attention to giving her time to connect with her bio father and say goodbye to her adoptive family. And the same for the ultimate removal from biofather's home back to her first home. To remove her with no attention to HER process is unconciousable. The short excerpt where she seems to have adjusted well to her biofather's home is misleading. Research has shown that children can adapt when they believe it's necessary to their survival--yet retain deep wounds and buried grief that only emerge much later. Is there any possiblity you could address this aspect of this and other similar situations.
Isaura Barrera, PhD

Jul. 02 2017 02:53 PM
Larry Allen Coons from Las Vegas, NV

Fathers' rights are licensed by the state. The adoption industry, in cooperation with state-funded CPS organizations, are engaged in highly unethical and highly cruel behavior. The native american tribes are an extremely unfortunate example of this. The great experiment performed on them is the most heinous of all. This kind of statistic, that a third of all indian children do not live with their biological mom, dad or even tribe, is just plain inhumane.

White people beware that if this can happen to "them" it can happen to you. The father in this case had no chance to retain his rights regardless of race. The mother, because of her status as a single mother, was pushed into the ominous position of deciding her child's future based on her present financial status. A status, mind you, of a person just beginning their life as a young adult. On the other end, there were some well-intentioned non-child producing adoptive parents. They had money, they were deeply obsessed with having and raising a child and they just simply wanted what everyone else has: the American Dream.

That dream is incentivized, after all. The less-publicized version of this story, which is experienced on a much wider scale than you probably realize, involves support orders for fathers who were never told they had a child on the way to begin with. The vast majority of these fathers object to the trafficking, literally the buying and selling of goods, but are just simply ordered to pay support or at the very least threatened with poverty themselves and a poverty-stricken life for their children if they do not fully support the transaction. Even though they may object in person and in court, the court still disfavors fathers under the well known yet outdated and outmoded Tender Years' doctrine.

The cash flow does not stop there. Fathers, and if not them the state, are ordered to provide for entitlements. Healthcare, additional money for education expenses, some cash money and food stamps are attached to foster children. Mind you, these are not orphans. The parents are known, fit and at least one of them willing to raise a child but just simply not given that license by the state. I have not even touched on the tax deductions, exemptions, credits and other governmental transfers of wealth that the adoption industry provides. Support, expenses and taxes are all potential, if not realized, carrots for the adoption industry donkey.

I realize this is a long post, but also that hardly anybody will make it through the first 20 seconds of reading. That is intentional. The issue is not a simple one. It is complex. It is not gender specific either. Its happening to the fit parents of all races, yet to some races its more significant. There needs to be change. Not a political one, but a human one. If you are in this circumstance and made it this far, please seek me out to share your story with me.

Jul. 02 2017 01:45 PM
joseph shapiro from Boston area

this story really hit home for me, I was taken along with my sister and baby brother from our home in Phoenix AZ by a social worker and state trooper (which I remember very well) in ~1968-1969 when i was about 4, and moved to MA where we lived in a foster home until being adopted by a white couple. Our adoptive parents were told by the state that we were in fact 'Cape Verdean' and that our biological father was a soldier from an Army base in Cottowood AZ where my sister and I had been born. There is no Army base in Cottonwood, but there is a sizeable Native American reservation there. DNA testing has determined that we have a fair amount of native American DNA in our blood (not Cape Verde!). and because AZ seals adopted kids Birth certs we are in limbo....very interesting!

Jul. 01 2017 03:26 PM
Amy from Bronx

This child is not an Indian and neither is her father.

Jul. 01 2017 02:19 PM
very important person

the player skips. it's frustrating to miss sections of the podcast. please look into this. thanks. good episode.

Dec. 25 2016 04:52 PM
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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