Equal Protection Posted on July 7, 2015

A.D. v. Washburn

Equal Protection for Indian Children


Goldwater Institute

Death on a Reservation

Equal Protection for Indian Children

Tell us your "EPIC" story



Last Step

Briefing on the motions to dismiss is complete.

Next Step

Await the court’s decision.

Read the Equal Protection for Indian Children Policy Report (3.3 MB)

Read the Policy Brief for Equal Protection for Indian Children (236.2 KB)

Read "Death On The Reservation" Investigative Report Here (11.2 MB)

Read more about the California “Lexi” case

Executive Summary

Alone among American children, children with Indian ancestry who end up in state protective custody are treated not in accord with their best interests but given separate, substandard treatment solely because of their race. This separate, unequal treatment results from a well-intentioned but a profoundly flawed and unconstitutional federal law, the Indian Child Welfare Act.[1] The Goldwater Institute is challenging certain provisions of the Act in order to vindicate the constitutional rights of off-reservation children of Indian ancestry[2] in Arizona, and their foster and prospective adoptive parents. The civil rights class action is based on the fundamental principles of equal treatment under law, respect for individual rights, and federalism embedded in the federal Constitution.


Case Documents

Order granting motion to dismiss (3/16/17) (93.6 KB)

Civil Rights Class Action Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (7/7/2015) (195.9 KB)

Carter Consolidated Response to Washburn Motion to Dismiss and McKay Motion to Abstain and Dismiss (11/18/2015) (179.8 KB)

Carter Response to Amicus Curiae Briefs of Casey Family & NCAI (11/30/2015) (64.1 KB)

Carter’s Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint (32.8 KB)

Carter’s Consolidated Reply to Defendants’ Responses to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint (410.9 KB)

First Amended Civil Rights Class Action Complaint for Declaratory, Injunctive, and Other Relief (1.2 MB)

State of Ohio’s Friend of The Court Brief in Support of the Goldwater Institute (68.7 KB)

Goldwater’s Opposition to Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (498.8 KB)

Backgrounder (07/07/15) (239.8 KB)


Case Logistics


            The Goldwater Institute filed a class action on behalf of all off-reservation Arizona-resident children with Indian ancestry in child custody proceedings and the foster, preadoptive and prospective adoptive parents of these children.


  • Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, sued in his official capacity. He has primary authority to enforce ICWA and BIA Guidelines.
  • Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, U.S. Department of the Interior, in her official capacity. The Department of the Interior is the cabinet agency of which BIA is a part and which is assigned enforcement powers under ICWA.
  • Gregory McKay, Director, Arizona Department of Child Safety, in his official capacity. The Director has the statutory duty under Arizona law to “protect children.”[35] The Director is also required to ensure that DCS complies with ICWA.[36]


United States District Court for the District of Arizona


Judge Neil V. Wake

Relief sought

Certain provisions of ICWA and BIA Guidelines should be declared unconstitutional and defendants should be permanently enjoined from enforcing those provisions.

Other Counsel

Attorneys from Cooper & Kirk, PLLC – a law firm in Washington, D.C. – Michael Kirk, Brian Barnes, and Harold Reeves serve as pro bono co-counsel.


GI Track Record

The Goldwater Institute has been a national leader in the movement to improve educational opportunities for children, to protect individual rights and freedom of all individuals, including their right to engage in legitimate business occupations. The Goldwater Institute spearheaded the Right to Try movement and was successful in getting Right to Try legislation passed in 22 states in 2015. Right to Try allows terminally ill patients to gain access to investigational treatments that have been approved by the FDA as safe.


Read the Equal Protection for Indian Children Policy Report (3.3 MB)

Read the Policy Brief for Equal Protection for Indian Children (236.2 KB)

Read "Death On The Reservation" Investigative Report Here (11.2 MB)

[1]           Indian Child Welfare Act, Pub. L. 95-608, 92 Stat. 3069 (1978), codified at 25 U.S.C. §§ 1901-1963.

[2]           The Act defines “Indian child” as “any unmarried person who is under age eighteen and is either (a) a member of an Indian tribe or (b) is eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and is the biological child of a member of an Indian tribe” 25 U.S.C. § 1903(4). Most Indian tribes have only blood quantum or lineage requirements as prerequisites for membership. See Miss. Band of Choctaw Indians Const. art. III, § 1; Cherokee Nation Const. art. IV, § 1; Choctaw Nation of Okla. Const. art. II, § 1; Muscogee (Creek) Nation Const. art. III, § 2; Gila River Indian Community Const. art. III, § 1; Navajo Nation Code § 701; Guidelines for State Courts and Agencies in Indian Child Custody Proceedings, 80 Fed. Reg. 10146, 10153, B.3 (February 25, 2015) (“New Guidelines”). Consequently, ICWA’s definition of “Indian child” is based solely on the child’s race or ancestry. Some of the tribes consider individuals with only a tiny percentage of Indian blood to be Indian, even if they have little or no contact or connection with the tribe. See, e.g., Cherokee Nation Const. art. IV, § 1.


[35]         A.R.S. § 8-451 et seq.

[36]         A.R.S. § 8-453(a)(20).


Clint Bolick served as the Goldwater Institute’s Vice President for Litigation. He is now an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Arizona. Read

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