On Monday, January 9, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the In re Alexandria P. case (also known as “Lexi”) in which non-Indian foster parents were seeking to adopt a six-year-old Choctaw tribal member in violation of state and federal Indian Child Welfare laws. The high court’s denial has put an end to nearly six years of heated litigation between Lexi’s foster parents and her biological father, his relatives, the State of California and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
The case began in 2010 when the girl was placed in state custody after her father went to jail for selling stolen auto parts, her mother having disappeared shortly after she was born. After several failed foster placements, Lexi was placed with Summer and Russell Page of Santa Clarita, California, while her father continued to work on his “reunification plan.” Early on, the Pages began indicating their desire to permanently adopt the girl, in spite of numerous warnings from the state and the courts that Lexi was subject to the law under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a 1978 law enacted to protect Indian families and communities from dissolution.
After the relationship between the Pages and father began to sour, however, her father eventually decided to cease efforts to regain custody of Lexi, asking only that she be placed with his relatives, to which the tribe, the state, the girl’s attorney and her guardian ad litem had all agreed.
Citing their objections to ICWA, the Pages nevertheless continued their quest to retain permanent custody of the girl with a legal team headed by Lori Alvino McGill, a Washington, D.C., attorney, who represented the Pages as pro hac vice counsel in California.
McGill, who represented birth mother Christy Maldonado as a pro bono spokesperson during Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, has also tried unsuccessfully to overturn ICWA in various jurisdictions across the country, including Virginia and South Carolina.
In March 2016, American Indian Unit of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services removed Lexi from the Pages home in Santa Clarita, California, under the glare of global media after the couple refused to release the girl to social workers in defiance of a court order. The transfer, which had been in the works for months, descended into pandemonium when protesters and media surrounded the house in an effort to prevent Lexi from leaving the premises.
As the car carrying Lexi pulled away from the Page’s Santa Clarita home, media and protesters followed the vehicle, with some beating on the windows and screaming as the terrified child cried in the back seat.
In July 2016, the California Second District Court of Appeals again ruled against the Pages in a blistering 38-page decision, ruling that there was no good cause to depart from ICWA.
Monday’s decision by the Supreme Court to deny another hearing ended the protracted legal battle over Lexi, who has been living in Utah with her relatives, including two biological sisters, since last March.
“We are very pleased at the Court's decision,” Christopher Blake, Lexi’s attorney in Los Angeles, told ICMN today. “Lexi is doing very well in her placement with her relatives in Utah. Beyond that we only wish to say that she needs her peace and privacy and we thank all who supported Lexi and ICWA in this battle.”
“The National Indian Child Welfare Association strongly supports the United States Supreme Court’s decision yesterday to decline to hear [this case],” said Sarah Kastelic, NICWA executive director. “Placing children with relatives is the bedrock of federal child welfare law for all children and honors important family connections, which are arguably some of the most important relationships we will have in our lifetimes.
“As with most foster placements, where reunification with family is the stated objective, the Page family understood her placement was to be temporary. Despite this, and despite numerous court rulings dating back to 2013, they repeatedly chose to reject the consensus of the court, the county child welfare agency, the child’s parent, her court-appointed attorney, and her tribe, who all agreed it was in her best interest to be with family. The United States Supreme Court rightly chose not to review this case.”