BOSTON — President John F. Kennedy’s only surviving child is celebrating what would have been his 95th birthday (May 29) by honoring three Iowa justices who were ousted after the court unanimously legalized same-sex marriages.
Caroline Kennedy will also recognize the U.S. ambassador to Syria who risked his life to support opponents of President Basher Assad’s regime.
Kennedy heads the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which promotes the late president’s memory and legacy. She will present the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award today to former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and justices David Baker and Michael Streit, all of whom were pushed off the bench in a 2010 retention vote that capped a contentious campaign.
The three judges will receive a sterling silver ship’s lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The award, which was designed by Kennedy’s husband, Edwin Schlossberg, and crafted by Tiffany & Co., resembles one belonging to the Navy’s oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution, or “Old Ironsides.”
Ternus, Baker and Streit were among seven justices who unanimously decided in 2009 that an Iowa law restricting marriage to a man and a woman violated the state’s constitution.
Conservative groups and other gay marriage foes spent about $1 million on a political campaign to oust the judges, who chose not to raise money or campaign themselves to avoid dragging the judiciary into politics.
“The three judges are interesting and courageous on many levels,” Kennedy told the AP. “Like many of the people who get this award, they don’t consider that they are doing anything particularly courageous, they just feel they’re doing what’s right, they’re doing their job.”
Kennedy, who is a lawyer, said the three “knew when they were writing this decision that it was gonna be a pioneering decision and a landmark decision and would face a lot of popular opposition.”
This year’s John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award also highlights the dangers of politicizing the judiciary, which is supposed to be an independent branch that protects the civil rights of Americans.
The danger is pronounced in areas where state and county judges spend increasing amounts of money to get elected or fend off electoral challenges sponsored by groups promoting narrow agendas, she said.
The developing trend could eliminate an independent judiciary and taint the entire democratic system, Kennedy said.
Today’s ceremony at the JFK Library and Museum in Boston will also honor U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford for ignoring repeated threats to his life and traveling around Syria to encourage and support peaceful protesters targeted by Assad’s brutal crackdown. Ford, who left Syria as security conditions worsened, remains the U.S. envoy to Syria.
“He’s exactly the kind of American that we want to celebrate and be proud of who’s engaged in building a more just and peaceful world,” Kennedy said.
“We need more courageous public servants in all areas of our government and he’s certainly one of those and will, hopefully, show a path to others to follow his example.”