Smith Camp, ‘a Leader Among Her Peers,” Dies at 66


Judge Laurie Smith Camp ad-dresses the Creighton University School of Law Class of 2022 before administering a law student oath Aug. 13, 2019. (Christopher Tierney/Creighton Uni-versity)
By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Senior U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp has died unexpectedly in her home.

Smith Camp “passed away unexpectedly and peacefully at her home overnight,” according to a statement released Thursday afternoon by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska. She was 66.

“Judge Smith Camp was more than an outstanding judge and leader on this Court,” Chief Judge John M. Gerrard said in the statement. “To many of us, she was a mentor, true friend and confidante. Our prayers go out to Judge Smith Camp's family and to everyone who has been personally touched by the wisdom and grace of this fabulous woman.”

Smith Camp was the first woman appointed as a U.S. district judge in Nebraska. She was appointed in 2001 by President George W. Bush and received confirmation by the U.S. Senate by a unanimous vote of all 100 senators. After serving as chief judge from 2011 to 2018, she assumed senior status in 2018.

“Today Nebraska lost one of its finest citizens. Judge Smith Camp was a friend and a well-respected jurist,” U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer said in a statement. “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 continued to carry an active caseload while remaining involved in the broader legal community, including starting a term in July as the president of the Omaha Bar Association.

The OBA issued a statement to The Daily Record saying that its board of directors and executive council, along with its staff and 1,500 attorney members, are mourning Smith Camp.

“It was an honor of a lifetime to work with Judge Smith Camp,” OBA Executive Director Dave Sommers said. “Her kindness and generosity knew no bounds. Her professionalism was second to none. She stood as an inspiration to generations of attorneys in Nebraska and beyond.”

Smith Camp was a 1977 graduate of the University of Nebraska College of Law and editor-in-chief of the Nebraska Law Review. She was born in Omaha on Nov. 28, 1953, and she graduated with distinction from Stanford University in 1974.

Before joining the bench, she was in private practice in Nebraska and Kansas. She served as the general counsel for the Nebraska Department of Corrections from 1980 to 1991, the head of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Civil Rights Section from 1991 to 1995 and chief deputy attorney general for criminal matters at the state attorney general’s office from 1995 to 2001.

“It is nearly impossible to overstate the impact Judge Smith Camp has had on the practice of law and legal community in Nebraska,” Sommers said. “In every way, she was a leader among her peers, and did everything in her power to show what the best of the legal profession looked like.”

Each fall, Smith Camp would welcome new attorneys to the practice of law, where she would take the time to get to know about each of them.

“Judge Smith Camp cared so deeply about the legal profession, and the important role that attorneys and judges hold in our society to bend the arc of history towards justice for all,” Sommers said. “The Nebraska legal community has lost one of its biggest and brightest stars, someone who was looked up to by so many. Our world is darker today without her light.”

Smith Camp invested time in recent months preparing for the 8th Circuit Judicial Conference, which was subsequently canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The conference was set to include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Sept. 18. Smith Camp recorded a tribute video Monday honoring the Supreme Court justice’s work. (Watch the video on YouTube at bit.ly/oba_rbg.)

“I am grateful for her gracious collegiality—meeting with my “freshman class” of new district judges in 2002, hosting high tea for female district chief judges in 2011, and exchanging gay wedding scripts with me in 2013,” Smith Camp said in an email to The Daily Record on Monday.

Because Smith Camp was on senior status, her death does not trigger a judicial vacancy. Judge Brian C. Beuscher was appointed by President Donald Trump last year to replace Smith Camp.

In addition to her legal career, Smith Camp and three business partners initiated and sustained the development of Lincoln’s historic Haymarket district from 1982 to 2001.

Smith Camp is survived by her two children, Jonathan and Abby.

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