Brackeen v. Bernhardt – Court of Appeals (5th Circuit) Overturns Ruling Detrimental to Sovereignty


The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the District Court’s ruling. “we conclude that… ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act] and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress’s unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency’s interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable.”

The Fifth Circuit has previously ruled against the law, leaving some uncertainty about a broad spectrum of laws concerning Indians across the District and, if upheld, across America. The reversed ruling stated that the Indian Child Welfare Act was based upon race classification (not political classification) and was therefore unconstitutional. The ruling would have jeopardized all laws recognizing Indians as a separate and distinct political class.

The case may proceed to the Supreme Court, but for now, Indian country may herald the ruling as recognition of Tribal Sovereignty.

OPINION Reversing Dist Ct