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On September 18, America lost one of its foremost jurists and sharpest legal minds, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Justice Ginsburg’s life is proof of the American Dream. The daughter of Jewish immigrants from Poland and Ukraine, she excelled as a student and attended Cornell University, where she studied government and met her future husband, Martin Ginsburg.
When she was accepted to Harvard Law School, she was one of just nine women in a class of 500 men. A famous story says that the dean of the law school invited all nine women to dinner and demanded to know why they felt they deserved to take the place of a man.
This would not be the last time she faced discrimination due to her gender. Even though she tied for first in her class at Columbia Law School, where she transferred after her first year at Harvard, she was rejected for a Supreme Court clerkship simply because she was a woman. Little did they know that they were turning down a future Justice.
She overcame countless obstacles throughout her life before becoming just the second woman to serve on the nation’s highest court, after Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who served from 1981 until her retirement in 2006.
While on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg developed an unlikely bond with another Justice, Antonin Scalia, whose legal philosophy could not have been more different than her own. Their close relationship was possible because it was rooted in something deeper than politics – a strong friendship.
We lost another pioneering jurist this week as well, Judge Laurie Smith Camp. Judge Smith Camp was one of Nebraska’s finest and a friend of mine. She was the first woman to serve as a federal judge in Nebraska, and the U.S. Senate voted 100-0 to confirm her to the federal bench in 2001, something that doesn’t happen very often these days. Her unanimous approval is a testament to her incredible talent.
Despite her position as one of the highest-ranking public servants in Nebraska, she was profoundly generous with her time. She was a role model to all and a mentor to many. She shared her knowledge and her experiences with countless women in Nebraska and across our country.
I valued her friendship, advice, and wit. She shared all of these with attendees at my Bridging the Gap event in 2016.
I always admired the dignity with which she carried herself, her love for the law, and her dedication to professionalism as she ably and purposefully led Nebraska’s District Court. In addition to her duties as a federal judge, Judge Smith Camp was also the current president of the Omaha Bar Association.
Since her passing, I have heard from so many Nebraskans whose lives she touched. One particularly moving note described her as “one of the kindest, most thoughtful people I have ever met.”
Judge Smith Camp was also a regular speaker at events promoting women’s participation in the legal profession. Through her example, she inspired countless young women to become lawyers, advocates, and politicians.
Justice Ginsburg did the same. Both of these extraordinary women blazed a trail that today’s young women and girls can follow.
I join with both of their families in mourning their passing and in celebrating their exceptional lives.