2012 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award
Three former Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were removed from office by Iowa voters after joining a unanimous decision to legalize same-sex marriage in that state were presented the prestigious John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ today by Caroline Kennedy at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. Former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and former justices David Baker and Michael Streit were chosen in recognition of the political courage and judicial independence each demonstrated in setting aside popular opinion to uphold the basic freedoms and security guaranteed to all citizens under the Iowa constitution.
Also honored with a Profile in Courage Award at today’s ceremony was Robert Ford, U.S. Ambassador to Syria, whose bold and courageous diplomacy has provided crucial support to Syrians struggling under the brutal regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
“Courage is a rare and critical quality in our democracy,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “Our honorees, Justices Baker, Streit, and Ternus, and Ambassador Ford, have put their lives and careers on the line to protect the fundamental civil rights of Americans who wish to marry the person they love, and to help bring the freedoms we enjoy to oppressed Syrians fighting for a better future. They are an example and an inspiration to us all.”
The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™ is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. The award is named for President Kennedy’s 1957 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, which recounts the stories of eight U.S. senators who risked their careers, incurring the wrath of constituents or powerful interest groups, by taking principled stands for unpopular positions. The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation created the Profile in Courage Award™ in 1989 to honor President Kennedy’s commitment and contribution to public service. It is presented in May in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday. The Profile in Courage Award is represented by a sterling-silver lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The lantern was designed by Edwin Schlossberg and crafted by Tiffany & Co.
David Baker, Michael Streit and Marsha Ternus, Former Iowa Supreme Court Justices
On April 3, 2009, Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit joined a unanimous opinion which struck down Iowa’s ban on same-sex marriage. The Varnum v. Brien decision was the first unanimous high court opinion on marriage for same-sex couples, and it made Iowa the third state in the U.S. and the first state outside of New England to allow same-sex marriage. When the justices cast their votes to legalize same-sex marriage, they were aware that national groups opposed to marriage equality were preparing to launch an unprecedented retaliatory campaign to oust them, but the Court stressed in its opinion that its responsibility was “to protect constitutional rights of individuals from legislative enactments that have denied those rights, even when the rights have not yet been broadly accepted, were at one time unimagined, or challenge a deeply ingrained practice or law viewed to be impervious to the passage of time.”
Although the Court’s decision was unanimous, Ternus, Baker and Streit were the only three Iowa Supreme Court justices up for retention in 2010. A provision of Iowa’s court system established 50 years ago to protect the bench from unscrupulous or corrupt judges, retention votes were explicitly non-political. Despite the votes’ intended use, in the fall of that year, the three justices faced a million-dollar opposition campaign managed by the National Organization for Marriage. They did not campaign on their own behalf, believing it was inappropriate for members of the court to solicit votes in a political context and only spoke publicly about the vote shortly before Election Day. All three were defeated, marking the first time since Iowa’s modern judicial system was established that any high court judge was ousted in a retention vote. The National Organization for Marriage has planned to launch similar campaigns in 2012 and 2016 against the remaining four justices who decided Varnum v. Brien.
The 2012 Profile in Courage Award is presented to Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit for their demonstrated political courage and judicial independence in upholding, in the face of popular opposition, the basic freedoms and security guaranteed to all citizens under the Iowa constitution.