The Supreme Court agreed on Friday to rule on the rights of non-Indian couples to adopt an Indian child over the objection of a parent who is a tribal member.   That was one of three newly granted cases. The others deal with the remedy if a federal judge has some role in plea bargaining discussions, and a dispute among states over sharing the waters of a river that flows between them.

The adoption case (Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, docket 12-399) involves the competing rights to a child that may arise under the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.   In this case, a South Carolina couple had adopted at birth the daughter of a young woman who was not a tribal member, but the child was considered to be an Indian because of her father’s tribal membership.  The South Carolina couple had to give up the child after raising her for two years, because a state court ruled that the federal law took priority over state law.  At issue in the case is the definition of “parent” under the federal law, including whether that includes an unwed father who only belatedly claimed parental rights.

The Justices agreed to hear an appeal by the federal government in United States v. Davila (12-167), testing what the remedy is to be in a plea-bargained criminal case when a federal judge had some role leading up to agreement on the plea deal.  The Eleventh Circuit Court ruled that, if the judge (in this case, a magistrate judge) has any role whatsoever in the plea talks, the guilty plea that resulted must be thrown out.   The government petition argued that the guilty plea should be overturned only if the judge’s participation had resulted in prejudice to the accused.

The third case the Court agreed to review has been pending at the Court for some time, because the Court had asked for the views of the Solicitor General.  After the federal government agreed that the case should be heard, the Court accepted it.  The case is Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann (docket 11-889).  The Court is expected to use the case to clarify the right of a state to claim its share of a water rights compact from the waters of the shared river as it flows through a neighboring state.  Here, the growing metro complex of Fort Worth, Texas, contends that it needs to dip into the Oklahoma flow of the Red River to fulfill its guaranteed equal share under the Red River Compact.  Oklahoma insists that Texas has no right to reach across the two states’ border to help fulfill its water needs.

Posted in Tarrant Regional Water District v. Herrmann, U.S. v. Davila, Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, Featured, Merits Cases

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Three cases granted, SCOTUSblog (Jan. 4, 2013, 2:15 PM), http://www.scotusblog.com/2013/01/three-cases-granted/