Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Texas judge struck down law that protects tribal role in custody cases

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson has joined a bipartisan coalition of 21 states to urge a federal appeals court to preserve the federal Indian Child Welfare Act after a lower court struck down the law. The Quinault Indian Nation in Washington state is also part of the case defending the act.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) is a federal law designed to give tribal governments a strong voice in custody decisions involving Indian children. ICWA was enacted in 1978 in response to historical practices of removing Indian children from their families.

Washington state, which is home to 29 federally recognized tribes, has also enacted state laws to complement ICWA.

This is the second time Washington has filed an amicus, or “friend of the court” brief, in this case in support of the act.

“The Indian Child Welfare Act furthers the best interests of Indian children, helps preserve Indian families, and promotes productive government-to-government relationships between states and tribes,” Ferguson said.

Texas, Indiana and Louisiana, along with seven named individuals, sued in federal court in the Northern District of Texas in 2017 challenging the constitutionality of ICWA, as well as other related federal regulations. Four Indian tribes, including the Quinault Indian Nation, intervened to defend ICWA.

“The protections provided by the Indian Child Welfare Act are an integral and vital part of Tribal Nations’ survival,” said Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp, who is also past president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. “Our children are the embodiment of our hopes, dreams, and inspirations. Only through their eyes are we able to envision the beauty and hope for a healthier, prosperous, thriving future that will exist beyond our lifetime for seven generations in the future.”

In May of 2018, Washington joined six other states to file an amicus with the district court in support of ICWA. Together, the seven states are home to 415 federally recognized tribal entities within their borders.

More than 120 federally recognized tribes across the nation, including 10 Washington tribes, also filed a brief with the district court in support of ICWA.

In October, District Court Judge Reed O’Connor declared ICWA and the regulations unconstitutional. The federal government and the intervening tribes appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal officer for the State of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov