2012 JFK Profile in Courage Award Winners Announced

For Immediate Release: March 12, 2012 
Media Contact: Rachel Flor (617) 514-1662, rachel.flor@jfklfoundation.org

Boston MA – Three former Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were part of a unanimous decision to legalize same-sex marriage in that state have been named this year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award™. 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 being honored with a 2012 Profile in Courage Award is 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. 

The prestigious award for political courage, announced today by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, will be presented by Caroline Kennedy at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on Monday, May 7. 

“This year’s Profile in Courage Award honorees have shown uncommon valor as public servants,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “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. In Syria, as a member of the United States Foreign Service, Ambassador Ford has boldly carved a new path of diplomacy, risking his own safety in the face of political turmoil and violence to show support for the Syrian people.” 

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 
In 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 decision was the first unanimous high court opinion on marriage for same-sex couples, and it made Iowa the third state to legalize same-sex marriage. The justices were aware that their opinion might not enjoy support from a majority of the public, 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, it provoked a political backlash. In November 2010, voters removed Ternus, Baker and Streit from office following an unprecedented campaign financed in part by national interest groups opposed to same-sex marriage. The justices’ ouster marked the first time since Iowa adopted its current judicial system that any sitting Supreme Court judge had lost an uncontested retention election. Ternus, Baker and Streit were the only three Supreme Court justices subject to a retention vote that year. They will be honored for the courage they and their colleagues demonstrated in upholding and defending the constitutional role of an independent judiciary, which has been vital to American democracy and historically responsible for the greatest advances in civil rights for all Americans. 

Robert Ford, United States Ambassador to Syria 
As U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford has taken extraordinary personal risks to bear witness to the violence and repression perpetrated by the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and to advocate for the human rights of the Syrian people. Ford has used social media to establish channels of communication directly with the Syrian people, providing moral support and encouraging them to embrace non-violent protest in the face of government-backed brutality. A former Peace Corps volunteer and then career member of the U.S. Foreign Service, Ford has risked his own safety to show solidarity with ordinary Syrians and to defend the rights of protesters opposing Assad’s regime. He has continued to engage directly with opposition leaders, traveling around Syria despite repeated threats on his life. Ford will be honored for the courageous example he has set and the light he has shone on the power of creative and robust diplomacy to serve as a vital tool for advancing human rights. 

This year’s recipients of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation’s prestigious award for political courage were selected by a distinguished bipartisan committee of national, political, and community leaders. Albert R. Hunt, executive Washington editor of Bloomberg News, chairs the 13-member Profile in Courage Award Committee. Committee members are U.S. Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-Maryland); Kenneth R. Feinberg, Chairman of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; U.S. Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-South Carolina); Antonia Hernandez, president and chief executive officer of the California Community Foundation; Elaine Jones, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline Kennedy, president of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Paul G. Kirk, Jr., former U.S. Senator (D-Massachusetts) and Chairman Emeritus of the board of directors of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Martha Minow, Dean and Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; Shari Redstone, President, National Amusements, Inc; John Seigenthaler, founder of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University; David M. Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; and U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine). Tom McNaught, executive director of the Kennedy Library Foundation, staffs the Committee. 

The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization founded in 1984 to provide financial support, staffing, and creative resources for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, a presidential library administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.