Lehr v. Robertson, 463 U.S. 248 (1983) (Putative father registry)
This case established the constitutionality of putative father registries generally. New York required an adoption petitioner to give notice to fathers who had been: adjudicated as fathers, identified on the birth certificate, identified by the mother in a sworn statement, married to the mother before the child was six months old, or had lived openly with the child and the mother. Fathers not fitting any of these categories had to file with New York's putative father registry to receive notice of the adoption.
In Lehr, the unwed mother broke up with the father and married someone else after the child was born. Although the father had lived with the mother before the birth and visited her in the hospital when the child was born, he was not on the birth certificate and paid no support. He did not file with the putative father registry because he did not know about the registry.
When the child was over two years old, the stepfather, unbeknownst to the natural father, petitioned to adopt the child. The natural father filed a paternity action in another county. Meanwhile, the adoption court ordered the adoption after searching the registry and finding no one listed. Only then did the father learn of the adoption petition. He petitioned to stay the adoption pending the determination of his paternity action, but the Court denied it because it had already ordered the adoption. The father then petitioned to vacate the adoption, arguing it was obtained in violation of his due process and equal protection rights. The trial court denied his petition, and the New York higher courts upheld the denial.
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the New York law did not violate the father's due process right because, despite lacking a substantial relationship with the child, the right to receive notice was completely within the father's control. He needed only to mail a postcard to the registry. The father's ignorance of that requirement was not a sufficient reason for criticizing the law itself. The father's paternity action did not show sufficient interest because the statute did not specify a paternity action as an alternative method for receiving notice, and adoption statutes had to be followed strictly.
The law did not violate the father's equal protection rights because he had never established a substantial relationship with the child. In those circumstances, the state could accord the parents different legal rights.
Mississippi Choctaw Indians v. Holyfield, 490 U.S. 30 (1989) (Native Americans)
This case established the rule that individual Indian tribal members domiciled on the reservation cannot avoid tribal jurisdiction simply by giving birth off the reservation and surrendering the child in state court.
The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) gave tribal courts exclusive jurisdiction over custody proceedings involving Indian children residing or domiciled on the reservation. ICWA aimed to stop abusive child welfare practices where many Indian children were being taken from their tribes through adoption or foster care placement.