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Senior district judge described as 'Ginsburg of the Nebraska legal community' dies unexpectedly
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LAURIE SMITH CAMP | 1953-2020

Senior district judge described as 'Ginsburg of the Nebraska legal community' dies unexpectedly

From the What you missed this week in notable Southeast Nebraska crimes and court cases series

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A longtime federal court judge, described as a pioneer and advocate of women's rights and the "Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Nebraska legal community," died unexpectedly and peacefully at her home overnight, Nebraska's chief district judge said.

Laurie Smith Camp

U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp

"The entire federal court family is devastated by the sudden and unexpected loss of Senior Judge Laurie Smith Camp," Judge John M. Gerrard said Thursday.

Smith Camp was 66.

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In 2001, she was appointed to the District Court by then-President George W. Bush and confirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate. She was the first woman appointed as a U.S. district judge in Nebraska.

Smith Camp transitioned to senior status in December 2018, but continued to carry an active caseload.

Gerrard said not only was she an outstanding judge and a true leader on the court, but also a gracious mentor, friend and confidante to so many in the courthouse and the community.

"She truly was the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Nebraska legal community," he said, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court Justice who died last week.

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Gerrard said, like Justice Ginsburg, 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.

"Her legacy is profound, and her historical mark on Nebraska's federal court is permanent," he said.

Joe Kelly, United States Attorney for Nebraska, described Smith Camp as an exceptional attorney and judge.

"She was the consummate professional and made so many positive, lasting impacts on our state and federal legal systems,” he said. 

Gov. Pete Ricketts said he and his wife, Susanne, were shocked and saddened by the news.

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“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,” he said.

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

Before being appointed to the bench, she was in private practice in Nebraska and Kansas between 1977 and 1980, served as General Counsel to Nebraska's Department of Corrections from 1980 to 1991, headed the Nebraska Attorney General's Civil Rights Section from 1991 to 1995, and was Chief Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Matters from 1995 to 2001.

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In 2019, Smith Camp was elected to serve as the 2020-2021 president of the Omaha Bar Association.

She, along with her three business partners, helped to initiate and sustain the development of Lincoln's historic Haymarket district from 1982 to 2001.

Judge Smith Camp, the former wife of former Lincoln City Councilman Jon Camp, is survived by two children, Jonathan and Abby.

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In a news release, U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer said: “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.”

Sen. Ben Sasse said 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," he said.

Nebraska has three active federal district judgeships — two in Omaha, and one in Lincoln — as well as two other judges currently on senior status and four magistrate judges.

Judgeships are filled by presidential nomination and U.S. Senate confirmation. 

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger

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Public safety reporter

Lori Pilger is a Norfolk native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been a public safety reporter for the Journal Star since 2005.

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