NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal appeals court has upheld the constitutionality of a 1978 law giving preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings involving American Indian children.

Friday's decision by a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal upholds the Indian Child Welfare Act and reverses a Texas-based federal judge. It comes in a case involving non-Indian families in multiple states who adopted or sought to adopt Native American children.

Opponents of the law called it an unconstitutional race-based intrusion on states' powers to govern adoptions. But the 5th Circuit majority disagreed, saying the law's definition of an "Indian child" is a political classification.

The opinion by Judge James L. Dennis also said the U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that Congress has broad power to regulate Native American tribes.

The decision was a victory for the U.S. Justice Department, which defended the law, and supporters of the law who say it's needed to protect and preserve Native American culture and families.

"We are pleased that the court followed decades of legal precedent in its ruling, preserving a law that protects Indian children and allows them to retain their identity by staying within their families and tribal communities," leaders of the Cherokee, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Oneida Nation and the Quinault Nation said in a joint press release.

Tyson Johnston, vice president of the tribal council of the Quinault Indian Nation in Tahola, Washington, was one of numerous tribal representatives who attended arguments in New Orleans in March. "This serves the best interest of our native children and families," he said in an interview.

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