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Profile In Courage

By Staff | May 8, 2012

Former Iowa Supreme Court Justices Michael J. Streit, Marsha K. Ternus and David A. Baker are three of four recipients of the 2012 Profile in Courage Award. The ceremony was yesterday, May 7, at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, MA.

Representatives of the Streit and Murray families attended the ceremony. Peg McNally of Emmetsburg, Michael’s cousin, received an invitation, but was not able to attend. Cousin, Sheila (Murray)?Miller from Waterloo and Aunt Rita Murray from Omaha were there, along with his sister, two brothers, his wife and two sons.

Peg shared her invitation with us. Here is some information on the award:

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.

John F. Kennedy believed political courage was a special kind of valor, and he reserved particular admiration for public officials who risked their careers to serve the public interest in defiance of partisan pressures or popular opinion. The Profile in Courage Award is presented to public servants whose actions or decisions demonstrate those qualities of political courage that President Kennedy admired most. The award is presented in celebration of President Kennedy’s May 29th birthday.

Profile in Courage Award recipients

Michael Streit, Marsha Ternus and David Baker:

In 2009, Iowa Supreme Court Justices Marsha Ternus, David Baker and Michael Streit joined in 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 were 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.

Michael Streit is a native of Sheldon. He received his B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1972 and his J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law in 1975. He was appointed a district court judge in 1983 and to the Iowa Court of Appeals in 1996. He was appointed to the Iowa Supreme Court by Governor Tom Vilsack in 2001 and served until his term expired Dec. 31, 2010.

Peg McNally stated that Michael Streit campaigned for Bobby Kennedy when he was in college in California. Michael had a good visit with Caroline Kennedy when she called to tell him of the award. She presented the award to the three former Iowa Supreme Court Justices at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

The family was thrilled with the award. “The best thing is, they are being recognized for going against the norm,” said Peg McNally.

Michael’s parents, Don and Marg (Mary Margaret Murray) Streit, live in Spirit Lake.