When a vacancy emerged on the federal bench in 2001, Nebraskans put forth Laurie's name to President Bush as the top choice for nomination. The Senate agreed, confirming her unanimously in full session. She served as chief judge from 2011 through 2018, before taking senior status. A few of her many notable decisions include striking down a law requiring mental health screenings for women seeking abortions, voiding portions of a city ordinance prohibiting providing housing to illegal aliens, and holding that major employers are required to provide insurance coverage for all FDA-approved prescriptions for contraception.

Laurie particularly enjoyed complex cases involving expert witnesses, which afforded her an opportunity to learn new things and confront the intersection of our changing world with the law. Her favorite duties, however, were people-focused: performing wedding ceremonies (19 in her career, including those of her children) and presiding over naturalization ceremonies, congratulating new Americans on their citizenship. Her judicial philosophy maintained a tone of fairness and impartiality for the district. Her published sentencing practice dismissed any testimony which favored the privileged, wealthy, or well-connected over the poor or disadvantaged. She treated everyone who appeared before her with dignity and respect, recognizing that the matters before her might be some of the most significant events in each of the parties' lives.