Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
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.
Facts. D.L., born July 12, 1989, was the third child born during the marriage of Debra L. and Jonathan L. D.L. was placed in the care of appellants, her foster parents, a few days after birth. D.L. Debra, and respondent grandparents are African-American, the foster parents and father are not. Debra’s two other daughters live with the grandparents, who have legal custody. Respondents first learned of D.L.’s existence in August of 1989 when Debra called and told them. Debra refused to give any further information. Debra visited respondents several months later and they urged her to get the baby and live with them. In February 1990, respondents learned that Debra was in jail and contacted her. She assured them that D.L. was with good people and she would get her back. In June 1990 Debra told respondents that if she could not get out of jail she was going to lose D.L. Respondent grandmother traveled to Minneapolis to look for D.L., and was able to locate her through the placeme
nt agency. Within a few weeks respondents notified the adoption unit that they wished to adopt D.L. The court held a hearing on the issue of if there was good cause not to approve respondents as D.L.’s adoptive parents under the relative preference of the State Minority Adoption Act (Act). A social worker testified as to her favorable study of respondent’s home and the positive relationship between respondents and their children and grandchildren was confirmed by D.L.’s guardian ad litem. Appellants testified that they had a profound love for D.L. and that D.L. was deeply attached to them. The court upheld the constitutionality of the Act and granted the respondents’ petition for adoption based on a finding of D.L.’s best interests.
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.