Names in the news, May 8

Posted May 07, 2012, at 4:51 p.m.

President John F. Kennedy’s only surviving child celebrated what would have been JFK’s 95th birthday this month by honoring three Iowa judges who were ousted after the court unanimously decided to legalize same-sex marriages. Caroline Kennedy on Monday also recognized 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 presented the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on Monday 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. The three judges received a sterling silver ship’s lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. The award, designed by Caroline Kennedy’s husband, Edwin Schlossberg, and crafted by Tiffany & Co., resembles one belonging to the U.S. Navy’s oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution. 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 in order to avoid dragging the judiciary into politics. This year’s 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 all Americans, Kennedy said. The danger is particularly pronounced in areas where state and county judges spend growing 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. “I think, just as we are seeing … increased amounts of money in legislative races, now we are getting to see it in the judiciary where it has a much more dangerous effect because those are not supposed to be politicized races.”

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