Brief Fact Summary. Grandparents of D.L. were granted adoption over her foster parents based on an Act granting preferences in the adoptive placement of a child of minority racial or ethnic heritage.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The racial preferences established by the Act are unconstitutional, and placement should be based on the child’s best interests, considering also the common law preference for placement with near relatives.
Issue. Does the Act impermissibly classify adoptive children based upon their race, thereby violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause?
Held. The racial classification in the Act fails under the Equal Protection Clause because it is not necessary to the accomplishment of the legislative purpose.
The Act facially establishes a racial classification, claiming to ensure that the best interests of children are met by requiring due consideration of the child’s minority race or minority ethnic heritage. This classification is unnecessary because the heritage of minority children can be protected without it by making the preferences for relatives applicable to all children. Respondents are not entitled to the Act’s mandatory preference, however common law provides a custodial preference for near relatives.
The appropriate test is the best interests of the child. This Court affirms the result because the record supports a separate independent conclusion that D.L.’s adoptive placement with her grandparents is in her best interest. Appellants urge that removal would harm her because of the disruption of the primary caretaker bond. Experts agreed that this would cause severe short-term pain, but the court found this will heal well in the loving environment provided by grandparents and her two siblings.
Discussion. The Court found that the Act was unconstitutional, but that the trial court’s separate analysis that it was in the child’s best interests to live with her grandparents was supported by the evidence.