Today the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum gives out the 2012 Profile in Courage Awards. Three recipients are the former members of the Iowa Supreme Court who were voted out of office in a spite campaign after the court unanimously upheld that the state’s Equal Protection clause required full equality in civil marriage law for gay and lesbian couples. Upholding their oath of office cost Justices David Baker, Michael Streit, and Chief Justice Marsha Ternus their re-elction bids in 2010 (earning Iowa voters a Bigot of the Year Award…)
Every year the Kennedy Library gives out the Profile in Courage Award, named after JFK’s 1957 book to make Americans aware of the conscientious and courageous acts of their public servants, and to encourage elected officials to choose principles over partisanship – to do what is right, rather than what is expedient. The award is presented annually to a public official or officials at the federal, state or local level whose actions best demonstrate the qualities of politically courageous leadership. Since its inception in 1990, the Award has been given to such luminaries as Sen. Ted Kennedy, Rep. John Lewis, Hilda Solis, Shirley Franklin, and Kofi Annan.
All three Justices were stunned and humbled by the award, and somewhat awed to receive a personal call from the coordinator of the Award, JFK Foundation president Caroline Kennedy. As former Chief Justice Ternus observed,
We never expected an award for upholding our oath in office. It’s a wonderful award for doing your job….a beautiful thing to have happened.
Caroline Kennedy makes it clear why the award was so well deserved.
When Justices Baker, Streit, and Ternus joined a unanimous decision to overturn a law denying same-sex couples the privileges of marriage, they sacrificed their own futures on the Court to honor Iowa’s constitution and the rights of all its citizens.
Current Iowa Chief Justice Mark Cady also noted
Throughout their careers Justices Ternus, Streit and Baker dedicated themselves to upholding the Constitution and serving the people of Iowa with integrity. It was an honor to serve with them and I’m happy to see them receive this national recognition.
In an age of partisanship, soundbites, and expedience, it is all too easy for public officials to act cautiously rather than stand up for the principles they were elected to uphold. (Hey, President Obama, does this award help you “evolve” on marriage equality?) Congratulations to these three justices for doing their jobs well and for this richly deserved honor.