Pennington County ICWA Lawsuit Considers Due Process In Emergency Hearings

Feb 14, 2018

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is now deliberating the federal lawsuit alleging unlawful handling of emergency hearings in Pennington County. Three appellate judges heard oral arguments in St. Paul on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

Two tribes, along with Native parents, filed suit almost five years ago against the Seventh Circuit Court, the Pennington County State's Attorney, and the state Department of Social Services. They say officials in these agencies violate the Indian Child Welfare Act, as well as due process protections under the Fourteenth Amendment.

This is a case of first impression. No other courts have determined if there's a constitutional due process right at emergency hearings, held quickly after a child has been removed from the home.

Federal Judge Jeffrey Viken determined that Pennington County policies are unconstitutional, and when officials refused to make changes on their own, he devised a plan going forward and ordered compliance. That was in December 2016.

The officials filed an immediate appeal with the Eighth Circuit.

Victoria Wicks has been reporting on this case for SDPB since it was filed in federal court in March 2013. She brings you this report on the latest development.

ICWA supporters gathered at the U.S. Federal Court in Rapid City in March 2013, when the lawsuit was first filed.
Credit Victoria Wicks file photo

To hear Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals oral arguments, click on this link: