First woman to serve on U.S. District Court of Nebraska dies unexpectedly

Published: Sep. 25, 2020 at 6:06 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - Laurie Smith Camp, a longtime Nebraska attorney who became the first woman to serve on the state’s federal district court, died unexpectedly at age 66, court officials said Thursday.

John M. Gerrard, the chief judge of Nebraska’s federal district court, said Smith Camp died peacefully at her home. The cause of her death wasn’t disclosed.

Smith Camp was appointed to the court by President George W. Bush in 2001 and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. She assumed senior judge status in 2018, meaning she was semi-retired but continued to carry an active caseload.

“Judge Smith Camp was not just an outstanding judge and a true leader on our court, but she was a gracious mentor, friend and confidant to so many individuals in both the courthouse and the community,” Gerrard said.

“She was truly the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Nebraska legal community,” he added, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court justice who died last week. “Like Justice Ginsburg, Judge Smith Camp was a pioneer and advocate of women’s rights, a wonderful mother, and she did it all with a quiet grace, compassion and leading by example.”

Smith Camp was born in Omaha in 1953 and graduated with distinction from Stanford University in 1974. She earned a law degree from the University of Nebraska in 1977 and served as editor-in-chief of the Nebraska Law Review.

Before she was appointed to the bench, she had a private law practice in Nebraska and Kansas from 1977 until 1980 before she took a job with Nebraska’s Department of Correctional Services. In 1991, she went to work for the Nebraska attorney general’s office and served in various prominent roles.

In 2019, she was elected to serve as the 2020-21 president of the Omaha Bar Association.

Governor Pete Ricketts and both of Nebraska’s U.S. senators issued statements following the news of her death.

Gov. Ricketts said “Susanne and I are shocked and saddened that Judge Smith Camp has unexpectedly passed away. Before becoming a federal judge, she was a highly-respected attorney in both private practice and public service. Outside of her legal career, she was a friend to the arts and a deeply-involved member of the community. We celebrate her work and will long remember her contributions to the Good Life.”

Senator Ben Sasse said “Judge Smith Camp was a smart, well-respected jurist who committed her life to serving her community and upholding the rule of law. She served her community for years and was an impeccable jurist who paved the way for women in the legal field in Nebraska. Melissa and I mourn her death. We pray tonight for her family and loved ones.”

Senator Deb Fischer adding “Today Nebraska lost one of its finest citizens. Judge Smith Camp was a friend and a well-respected jurist. I appreciated her counsel on the three vacancies on Nebraska’s federal courts we worked to fill. I am saddened by her passing and send my deepest condolences to her family.”

Smith Camp is survived by two children.

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