Drake alumna Marsha Ternus, LW’77, received the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on May 7 in Boston. Ternus is the former chief justice for the Iowa Supreme Court; she was removed from the bench after a 2010 retention vote. Caroline Kennedy, President Kennedy’s only living child, presented the award to Ternus along with her fellow ousted justices, David Baker and Michael Streit. The award recognized them for their decision to legalize same-sex marriage.
The three Iowa justices were part of the 2009 Varnum v. Brien case, in which the court ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. They were removed in 2010 by a retention vote; their removal marked the first time a Supreme Court justice has not been retained since the merit selection and retention system for judges was adopted in 1962.
According to Kennedy, “the award is intended both to honor their decision and also make people more aware of the dangers and threat to independent judiciary.”
Ternus and other recipients were honored at a ceremony at the JFK Library and Museum. They received a sterling silver ship’s lantern symbolizing a beacon of hope. Tiffany & Co. crafted the award, which resembled one belonging to the U.S. Navy’s oldest commissioned warship, the USS Constitution.
“Calling judges activist or elitist adds nothing of substance to the public debate about the important issues of our times,” Ternus said at the ceremony, according to the Des Moines Register. “If we as Americans value the rule of the law, we must act as if we do.”
Ternus made history when she was named Iowa’s first female chief justice in 2006. She graduated from Drake with honors, and was elected to the Order of the Coif. While working at a private law firm, she served as president of the Polk County Bar Association. She has also served as president of Drake Law School’s Board of Counselors and received the Law School Alumni of the Year Award in 1996. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad appointed her to the Iowa Supreme Court in 1993.