Most Firms Don't Advocate Cultural Genocide Pro Bono, But This Biglaw Firm Will!

Firm with deep anti-Native rights practice brings assault on Indian Child Welfare Act to SCOTUS free of charge.


(Photo by Al Drago/Getty Images)


No one labors under the illusion that every representation is going to be as morally pure as driven snow. But if you’re going to find yourself defending a client’s right to smother poor people for sport, the least you can do is get paid for it. Student debt doesn’t pay itself!


So when Gibson Dunn takes on a case challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act — a statute designed to remediate the horrific legacy of colonial assault upon native culture — you’re forgiven for assuming the firm is planning to make a mint. But you’d be wrong! Gibson Dunn is arguing this case pro bono.


The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 emerged as a response to over a century of cultural genocide initiatives on the part of the United States government aimed at eradicating Native peoples through family separation and assimilation efforts putting children through torturous boarding schools. ICWA puts a priority on placing Native children with their families or tribal members. The United Nations has even been asked to consider ICWA as a model for combatting cultural genocide. It’s basically the absolute least the United States could do for communities that are still, in fact, sovereign nations.


Three non-Native families are challenging this law at the Supreme Court after seeking custody of Native children. Gibson Dunn would certainly hope the public focuses on their specific clients, a decently off couple who provided foster care for a child in need and ultimately sought to adopt him. This set off a battle when the court ruled that the child be placed with a Navajo couple, but ultimately Gibson’s clients successfully adopted the child.


In fact, two of the families have adopted the children in question and in the case of the one family who didn’t, the child was placed with its grandmother which… seems to be the right result regardless of ICWA. You might wonder why Gibson’s case is still happening given these facts. The Navajo agree, writing in their brief:

Petitioners seek only prospective relief but have no actual or redressable injuries. They are also improperly attempting to bypass state court systems—the courts in which ICWA cases are actually litigated—and to concoct a sprawling, abstract federal facial challenge to the statute.